I 3atben t bition
THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
THE WRITINGS OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
EDITED BY BRADFORD TORREY
DECEMBER 1, 1859-JULY 31, 1860
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
Ube Biberaite paeret, Cambrige
COPYRIGHT 1906 BY HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & CO.
All rights reserved
CHAPTER I. December, 1859 (}fr. 42) 3
A Ride with an Insane Man A Glaze on the Trees John
Brown as a Preacher Brown's Translation A Lichen Day
Walden in a Mist Tansy Brown's Greatness Brown
and Public Opinion Present, Past, and Future A Warm,
Soft Sky Dr. Ripley's Fire-Wood An Irish Woodchopper
Faery Visitors Watching the Clouds Snowballs made
by the Wind From the First Georgic A Classification of
Snow-Storms-The "Philosophy" of Wood-Gerard's Herbal
Seeds as Food for Birds The Squirrels' Winter Food -
The Divinity of Youth A Lodging Snow The Snow wrin-
kled with Age A Reminiscence of Summer Fisherman's
Luck A Large Blueberry Bush Fishes in a Newly Dug
Pond A Flock of Snow Buntings Liatris in Winter A
Blueberry Grove A Golden-crested Wren The Artillery
of the Frozen Pond The Life of the Pickerel-Fisher Head-
gear of Men and Women- Women and Boot-Heels- A
Brute with a Gun Muskrat-Houses and Muskrat Food -
Scientific Nomenclature Open Places in the River The
Breath of the River Remarkable Clouds A Shrike -
The Musquash in Winter Winter Fog Our System of
Education Thoughts and the Man.
CHAPTER II. January, 1860 (ET. 42) 71
Snow Buntings A Talk with Melvin Traces of a Tragedy
Circumstantial Evidence Snow, the Revealer Seeds
and Seed-Eaters A January Thaw Young Canoe Birches
A Creature of Fate A Flock of Chickadees A Bushel
of Nutmegs A Hawk and a Weasel Red Squirrels' Run-
ways Tree Sparrows Red Squirrels Alcott's Defini-
tion of Heaven Chickadees and their Food Streams of
Drifting Snow Hemlock Seed A Gray Squirrel and his
Tracks Shelter for Wild Creatures Birds in Winter -
Snow-Fleas Small Fishes- A Talk with Minott- Tree
Sparrows feeding Solomon's Description of the Return of
Spring Importance of keeping a Record of the Weather -
The River breaking up A Fire on the Ice Wisps of Cloud
The Sunset Sky A Flock of Redpolls The Apple Tree's
Welcome The Beauty that surrounds us The Cawing of
Crows The Snow-Flea Marks on Old Ice.
CHAPTER III. February, 1860 (Sr. 42) 118
Rosettes of Frost on the Ice-- Arctic Scenery Sun-Dogs -
A Fox searching for Food Gowing's Swamp Tracks of
Otters Individuality in Gait Springlike February Fig-
oures in the Ice Oak Leaves sunk in the Ice Black Water
Icicles Walking on the Ice The Ice Another Sky -
Colors of a Winter Walk More Icicles The Stupidity
of Men Tropes A Snow-Storm Snow on the Trees -
Topsell's Gesner and its Account of the Antelope Gesner
on the Ape Gesner on the Beaver Describing Animals -
The Names of Animals Animals of the Ancients Ripples
in the Ruts Berries as Food for the Wild Creatures Notes
from Brand's "Popular Antiquities" -Some Remarkable
Clouds Open Water amid the Ice The Blood of the Earth
The First Sheldrakes- A Cap of Woodchuck-Skin -
Squirrels and Pine Cones Gesner's Point of View -Austin's
Life in the Country An Irishman's Fuel.
CHAPTER IV. March, 1860 (AT. 42) 170
Thoughts entertained on a Walk Skunk-Cabbage The
Meadow Flood Ripple Days begun The First Song
Sparrows Floating Ice Musquash A Flock of Grackles
Vegetation in Winter- Moles' Work ACurious Phenom-
enon R&sum of February Two Red Squirrels The
Opening of Walden Ripples on Walden The Craftsman's
Eyes- March Temperature- A Hen-Hawk's Neat Figure
Red-Wings Sheldrakes and Gulls Skunk-Cabbage -
Honey-Bees Early Insects- The Crimson Stars of the Hazel
The Cheerful Pitch Pine Roots of the Yellow Lily -
Woodcocks A Swarm of Dancing Gnats An April-like
Rain March Phenomena Temperature of the Months
Ducks and Gulls The Sheldrakes Meteorological
Notes Gnawings of Mice The Sled and the Woodchuck
The End of Sleighing The Story of March The Fore-
Glow of the Year The Walker's Clothes The Season's
Fluctuations The Toad's Faint Prelude A Fire in the
CHAPTER V. April, 1860 (ET. 42) 237
The Sawdust Water-Line- Sentences the Fruit of the Thinker
A Great Burning An Ox in the Stanchions The Faint
Distant Ring of Toads The Oscillating Pendulum of Spring
A Whirlwind Crossbills An Old Barrel-Horse and its
Story of New England Life The Song of the Chip-Bird -
A Stake-Driver A New Well The Sinking of a Road -
Hibernating Snakes A Woodcock A Gray Squirrel's Nest
A Concert of Blackbirds interrupted by a Hawk A Mink
and her Young A Small Hawk A Summeriness in the Air
The Hum of Insects A Concert of Red-Wings Tracks
on the River-Shore Fires in the Woods.
CHAPTER VI. May, 1860 (Fzr. 42) 270
The Fresh-Water Clams A Searcher for Money on the
Muster-Field At the Aquarium Pickerel-Fishing The
Trail of the Musquash Bluets Nature's Regularity -
Shad-Bush Bloom The Strength of Calves A Marsh
Hawk A Still Day Rhus Toxicodendron Mining Bees'
Holes Dandelion Seeds Crows pursuing a Hawk The
Green of the Birches Birds exploring Trees The Hand-
some Fruit of the Red Maple A Cooper's Hawk The First
Rustling Leaves The Sand Cherry in Bloom The Night-
Warbler A Thrush's Nest A Bear's Foot The Black-
Poll Warbler Water-Thrushes Sweet Flag The Leaves
of Red Cedars The Brilliant Tanager Notes of Late May
The Black-Poll Warbler Sylvia pardalina A Cooper's
Hawk's. Nest A Pair of Marsh Hawks and their Nest -
Rabbits' Forms A Nighthawk A Refuge in a Shower.
CHAPTER VII. June, 1860 (LET. 42) 323
Gray Squirrels' Nests Evening on the River Departure
of the Warblers A Catbird's Nest The Fully Expanded
Leaves The Peeping of Hylodes in June Ferns and Foli-
age Twilight on the River Frosty Poplar Hollow The
New Leaves -The Showery Season -The Form of Moun-
tains The Down of the Willow -The Water-Bugs A Bat -
The Wind in the River-Valley Sedges of the Wet Meadows
The Turtle and the Heron Various Shades of Green A
Turtle Laying Eggs Captive Young Woodchucks Falling
Buttonwood Leaves Willow Down An Upland Plover -
A Wary Snapping Turtle Phenomena of Mid-June The
Durability of Oak Wood Pine Pollen on the Shores of Ponds
A Fox-Path A Heavy Rain A Cold June Day Pine
Pollen "Pollinometers" A Dead Turtle Indian Arrow-
heads- Rain, raising the River- A Parti-colored Warbler
The Blue-eyed Grass A Partridge with her Brood A
Black Snake laying her Eggs Some Grasses A Venerable
Tortoise A Hard Rain The Beauty of the River Meadows
A Toad's Hole.
CHAPTER VIII. July, 1860 (&T. 42-43) 382
Sunlight on a Grain-Field Young Marsh Hawks The
Swift Camilla Temperature of the Springs Temperature '
of the Brooks Temperature of the River Rose-breasted
Grosbeaks The Lights and Shadows of the Grass Proser-
pine's Hair- The Checker-Board Fields Water-Lilies at
Night The Grasses and Sedges of the Landscape The
Cultivated Grasses The Abundant Lily Pads The Bull-
frog's Eye The Lily Pads Pollywogs A Box Turtle -
The House-Leek The Beauty of the Crops Lightning -
The Under Sides of Leaves- A Golden-winged Warbler
The Little Auk Petrels Other Birds found at Wayland
Detecting Poor Shingles Young Wild Ducks Shad-
Bush Berries Potato-Balls Rain on the Water.
HOUSTONIA (page 278) Frontispiece
SEDGES BY THE RIVER 98
A CONCERT OF BLACKBIRDS 264
THE GREAT MEADOWS IN SPRING 274
YOUNG SHOOTS ON PITCH PINE 826
THE JOURNAL OF
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
DECEMBER, 1859 (ET. 42)
Nov. 30, Dee. 1 and 2 were remarkably warm and
springlike days, a moist warmth. The crowing of
cocks and other sounds remind you of spring, such is
the state of the air. I wear only one coat.
Dec. 3. Suddenly quite cold, and freezes in the
Rode with a man this forenoon who said that if he
did not clean his teeth when he got up, it made him
sick all the rest of the day, but he had found by late
experience that when he had not cleaned his teeth
for several days they cleaned themselves. I assured
him that such was the general rule, that when from
any cause we were prevented from doing what we had
commonly thought indispensable for us to do, things
cleaned or took care of themselves.
X was betrayed by his eyes, which had a glaring
S[X, whom Thoreau drove this morning to Acton, was literally an
unknown quantity to him at the time. He did not learn till afterward
film over them and no serene depth into which you
could look. Inquired particularly the way to Emer-
son's and the distance, and when I told him, said he
knew it as well as if he saw it. Wished to turn and pro-
ceed to his house. Told me one or two things which he
asked me not to tell S.1 Said, "I know I am insane,"
-and I knew it too. Also called it "nervous excite-
ment." At length, when I made a certain remark, he
said, "I don't know but you are Emerson; are you?
You look somewhat like him." He said as much two
or three times, and added once, "But then Emerson
would n't lie." Finally put his questions to me, of
Fate, etc., etc., as if I were Emerson. Getting to the
woods, I remarked upon them, and he mentioned my
name, but never to the end suspected who his com-
panion was. Then "proceeded to business," -" since
the time was short," and put to me the questions he
was going to put to Emerson. His insanity exhibited it-
self chiefly by his incessant excited talk, scarcely allow-
ing me to interrupt him, but once or twice apologizing
for his behavior. What he said was for the most part
connected and sensible enough.
When I hear of John Brown and his wife weeping
at length, it is as if the rocks sweated.
Dec. 4. Awake to winter, and snow two or three
inches deep, the first of any consequence.
that it was Francis Jackson Merriam, one of John Brown's men, on
his way to Canada. See the account in Familiar Letters, pp. 365-367;
1 [Mr. F. B. Sanborn.]
1859] A GLAZE ON THE TREES
Dec. 5. P. M. Down Turnpike to Smith's Hill.
Rather hard walking in the snow. There is a slight
mist in the air and accordingly some glaze on the twigs
and leaves, and thus suddenly we have passed from
Indian summer to winter. The perfect silence, as if
the whispering and creaking earth were muffled (her
axle), and the stillness motionlessnesss) of the twigs
and of the very weeds and withered grasses, as if they
were sculptured out of marble, are striking. It is as
if you'had stepped from a withered garden into the
yard of a sculptor or worker in marble, crowded with
delicate works, rich and rare. I remark, half a mile
off, a tall and slender pitch pine against the dull-gray
mist, peculiarly monumental. I noticed also several
small white oak trees full of leaves by the roadside,
strangely interesting and beautiful. Their stiffened
leaves were very long and deeply cut, and the lighter
and glazed under sides being almost uniformly turned
vertically toward the northwest, as a traveller turns
his back to the storm, though enough of the redder
and warmer sides were seen to contrast with them, it
looked like an artificial tree hung with many-fingered
gauntlets. Such was the disposition of the leaves, often
nearly in the same plane, that it looked like a brown
See four quails running across the Turnpike. How
they must be affected by this change from warm wea-
ther and bare ground to cold and universal snow!
Returning from the post-office at early candle-light,
I noticed for the first time this season the peculiar
effect of lights in offices and shops seen over the snowy
streets, suggesting how withdrawn and inward the life
in the former, how exposed and outward in the latter.
His late career these six weeks, I mean -has been
meteor-like, flashing through the darkness in which we
live. I know of nothing more miraculous in all history.'
Nothing could his enemies do but it redounded to his
infinite advantage, the advantage of his cause. They
did not hang him at once; they reserved him to preach
to them. And here is another great blunder: they have
not hung his four followers with him; that scene is
still to come, and so his victory is prolonged.
No theatrical manager could have arranged things
so wisely to give effect to his behavior and words. And
who, think you, was the Manager? Who placed the
slave-woman and her child between his prison and
the gallows ?
The preachers, the Bible men, they who talk about
principle and doing to others as you would that they
should do unto you, -how could they fail to recog-
nize him, by far the greatest preacher of them all, with
the Bible on his lips, and in his acts, the embodiment
of principle, who actually carried out the golden rule ?
All whose moral sense is aroused, who have a calling
from on high to preach, have sided with him. It may
prove the occasion, if it has not proved it already, of
a new sect of Brownites being formed in our midst.3
I see now, as he saw, that he was not to be pardoned
or rescued by men. That would have been to disarm
I [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 441; Misc., Riv. 237.]
2 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 448; Misc., Riv. 246.]
s [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 442, 443; Misc., Riv., 239.]
1859] JOHN BROWN'S TRANSLATION
him, to restore to him a material weapon, a Sharp's rifle,
when he had taken up the sword of the spirit, the
sword with which he has really won his greatest and
most memorable victories. Now he has not laid aside
the sword of the spirit. He is pure spirit himself, and
his sword is pure spirit also.
On the day of his translation, I heard, to be sure,
that he was hung, but I did not know what that meant,
-and I felt no sorrow on his account; but not for
a day or two did I even hear that he was dead, and
not after any number -of days shall I believe it. Of
all the men who are said to be my contemporaries,
it seems to me that John Brown is the only one who
has not died. I meet him at every turn. He is more
alive than ever he was. He is not confined to North
Elba nor to Kansas. He is no longer working in secret
only. John Brown has earned immortality.1
Men have been hung in the South before for attempt-
ing to rescue slaves, and the North was not much stirred
by it. Whence, then, this wonderful difference? We
were not so sure of their devotion to principle. We
have made a subtle distinction, have forgotten human
laws, and do homage to an idea. The North is sud-
denly all Transcendental. It goes behind the human
law, it goes behind the apparent failure, and recog-
nizes eternal justice and glory.
It is more generous than the spirit which actuated
our forefathers, for it is a revolution in behalf of an-
other, and an oppressed, people.2
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 448-450; Misc.,Riv. 246-248.]
2 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 443; Misc., Riv. 239, 240.]
8 JOURNAL [DEC. 6
Dec. 6. P. M. To Walden and Baker Bridge, in
the shallow snow and mizzling rain.
It is somewhat of a lichen day. The bright-yellow
sulphur lichens on the walls of the Walden road look
novel, as if I had not seen them for a long time. Do
they not require cold as much as moisture to enliven
them? What surprising forms and colors! Designed
on every natural surface of rock or tree. Even stones
of smaller size which make the walls are so finished,
and piled up for what use ? How naturally they adorn
our works of art! See where the farmer has set up
his post-and-rail fences along the road. The sulphur
lichen has, as it were, at once leaped to occupy the
northern side of each post, as in towns handbills are
pasted on all bare surfaces, and the rails are more or
less gilded with them as if it had rained gilt. The
handbill which nature affixes to the north side of posts
and trees and other surfaces. And there are the various
shades of green and gray beside.
Though it is melting, there is more ice left on the
twigs in the woods than I had supposed.
The mist is so thick that we cannot quite see the
length of Walden as we descend to its eastern shore.
The reflections of the hillsides are so much the more
unsubstantial, for we see even the reflected mist veil-
ing them. You see, beneath these whitened wooded
hills and shore sloping to it, the dark, half mist-veiled
water. For two rods in width next the shore, where
the water is shallowest and the sand bare, you see a
strip of light greenish two or three rods in width, and
then dark brown (with a few green streaks only) where
WALDEN IN A MIST
the dark sediment of ages has accumulated. And, look-
ing down the pond, you see on each side successive
wooded promontories with their dim reflections -
growing dimmer and dimmer till they are lost in the
mist.. The more distant shores are a mere dusky line
or film, a sort of concentration of the mistiness.
In the pure greenish stripe next the shore I saw some
dark-brown objects above the sand, which looked
very much like sea turtles in various attitudes. One
appeared holding its great head up toward the surface.
They were very weird-like and of indefinite size. I
supposed that they were stumps or logs on the bot-
tom, but was surprised to find that they were a thin
and flat collection of sediment on the sandy bottom,
like that which covered the bottom generally further
When the breeze rippled the surface some distance
out, it looked like a wave coming in, but it never got
in to the shore.
No sooner has the snow fallen than, in the woods,
it is seen to be dotted almost everywhere with the fine
seeds and scales of birches and alders, no doubt an
ever-accessible food to numerous birds and perhaps
mice. Thus it is alternate snow and seeds.
Returning up the railroad, I see the great tufts
of sedge in Heywood's
meadow curving over like Z f
locks of the meadow's
hair, above the snow.
These browned the meadow considerably. Then came
a black maze, of alders moistened by the rain, which
made a broad black belt between the former brown
and the red-brown oaks higher up the hillside.
The white pines now, seen through the mist, the
ends of their boughs drooping a little with the weight
of the glaze, resemble very much hemlocks, for the
extremities of their limbs always droop thus, while
pines are commonly stiffly erect or ascendant.
Came upon a round bed of tansy, half a dozen feet in
diameter, which was withered quite black, as seen above
the snow, blacker than any plant I remember. This
reminded me that its name was by some thought to be
from 'Oavao-ta, or immortality, from its not withering
early, but in this case it suggested its funereal reputation.
What a transit that of his horizontal body alone,
but just cut down from the gallows-tree! We read
that at such a time it passed through Philadelphia,
and by Saturday night had reached New York. Thus
like a meteor it passed through the Union from the
Southern regions toward the North. No such freight
have the cars borne since they carried him southward
What avail all your scholarly accomplishments and
learning, compared with wisdom and manhood? To
omit his other behavior, see what a work this compara-
tively unread and unlettered man has written within
six weeks! Where is our professor of belles-lettres,
or of logic and rhetoric, who can write so well? He
has written in prison, not a History of the World like
Raleigh, for his time was short, but an American book
which shall live longer than that.
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 449; Misc., Riv. 247.]
1859] BROWN'S GREATNESS 11
The death of Irving, which at any other time would
have attracted universal attention, having occurred
while these things were transpiring, goes almost un-
observed. Literary gentlemen, editors, and critics
think that they know how to write because they have
studied grammar and rhetoric; but the art of com-
position is as simple as the discharge of a bullet from
a rifle, and its masterpieces imply an infinitely greater
force behind it. This unlettered man's speaking and
writing is standard English. Some words and phrases
deemed vulgarisms and Americanisms before, he has
made standard American. "It will pay." It suggests
that the one great rule of composition and if I were
a professor of rhetoric I should insist on this is to
speak the truth. This first, this second, this third.
This demands earnestness and manhood chiefly.'
I felt that he, a prisoner in the midst of his enemies
and under sentence of death, if consulted as to his next
step, could answer more wisely than all his countrymen
beside. He best understood his position; he contem-
plated it most calmly. All other men, North and South,
were beside themselves. Our thoughts could not revert
to any greater or wiser or better men with whom to com-
pare him, for hewas above them all. The man this coun-
try was about to hang was the greatest and best in it.2
Commonly men live according to a formula, and are
satisfied if the order of law is observed, but in this in-
stance they returned to original perceptions and there
was a revival of old religion; and they saw that what
S[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 446-448; Misc., Riv. 244, 245.]
2[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 441, 442; Misc., Riv. 237, 238.]
was called order was confusion, what was called justice,
injustice, that the best was deemed the worst.
Most Northern men, and not a few Southern ones,
have been wonderfully stirred by Brown's behavior and
words. They have seen or felt that they were great,
heroic, noble, and that there has been nothing quite
equal to them in this country, if in the recent history
of the world. But the minority have been unmoved
by them. They have only been surprised and pro-
voked by the attitude of their neighbors. They have
seen that Brown was brave and believed that he had
done right, but they have not detected any further
peculiarity in him. Not being accustomed to make
fine distinctions or to appreciate noble sentiments,
they have read his speeches and letters as if they read
them not, they have not known when they burned.
They have not felt that he spoke with authority, and
hence they have only remembered that the law must
be executed. They remember the old formula; they
do not hear the new revelation. The man who does
not recognize in Brown's words a wisdom and noble-
ness, and therefore an authority, superior to our laws,
is a modern Democrat. This is the test by which to
try him. He is not willfully but constitutionally blind,
and he is consistent with himself. Such has been his
past life. In like manner he has read history and his
Bible, and he accepts, or seems to accept, the last only
as an established formula, and not because he has been
convicted by it. You will not find kindred sentiments
in his commonplace-book.1
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 443, 444; Misc., Riv. 240, 241.]
1859] BROWN AND PUBLIC OPINION
And in these six weeks what a variety of themes he
has touched on! There are words in that letter to his
wife, respecting the education of his daughters, which
deserve to be framed and hung over every mantelpiece
in the land. Compare their earnest wisdom with that
of Poor Richard!
"He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right;
But bowed his comely head
Down, as upon a bed." 2
Years are no longer required for a revolution of pub-
lic opinion; days, nay hours, produce marked changes.
Fifty who were ready to say, on going into some meet-
ing in honor of him, that he ought to be hung, will
not say it when they come out. They hear his words
read, every one of which "conveys the perfect charm;"
they see the earnest faces of the congregation; and per-
haps they join in singing the hymn in his praise.
What confessions it has extorted from the cold and
conservative! Witness the Newton letter.
The order of instruction has been reversed. I hear
that the preacher says that his act was a failure, while
to some extent he eulogizes the man. The class-teacher,
after the services, tells his grown-up pupils that at
first he thought as the preacher does now, but now
he thinks that John Brown was right. But it is under-
[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 447; Misc., Riv. 244, 245.]
2 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 449; Misc., Riv. 247.]
stood that the pupils are as much ahead of the teacher
as he is ahead of the priest; and the very little boys
at home ask their parents why God did not save him.
They, whether in the church or out of it, who adhere
to the spirit and abandon the letter, and who are
accordingly called infidel, have been foremost in this
I took out my boots, which I have not worn since
last spring, with the mud and dust of spring still on
them, and went forth in the snow. That is an era,
when, in the beginning of the winter, you change from
the shoes of summer to the boots of winter.
Dec. 8. Here is a better glaze than we have yet had,
for it snowed and rained in the night.
I go to Pleasant Meadow, or rather toward the
sun, for the glaze shows best so. The wind has risen
and the trees are stiffly waving with a brattling sound.
The birches, seen half a mile off toward the sun, are
the purest dazzling white of any tree; probably because
their stems are not seen at all. It is only those seen at
a particular angle between us and the sun that appear
Day before yesterday the ice which had fallen from
the twigs covered the snow beneath in oblong pieces one
or two inches long, which C. well called lemon-drops.
When a noble deed is done, who is likely to appre-
ciate it? They who are noble themselves. I am not
surprised that certain of my neighbors speak of John
Brown as an ordinary felon. Who are they? They
I [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 442, 443; Misc., Riv. 238, 239.]
1859] BROWN AND PUBLIC OPINION
have much flesh, or at least much coarseness of some
kind. They are not ethereal natures, or the dark quali-
ties predominate in them, or they have much office.
Several of them are decidedly pachydermatous. 'How
can a man behold the light who has no answering in-
ward light ? They are true to their sight, but when they
look this way they see nothing, they are blind. For the
children of the light to contend with them is as if there
should be a contest between eagles and owls. Show
me a man who feels bitterly toward John Brown, and
then let me hear what noble verse he can repeat.1
Certain persons disgraced themselves by hanging
Brown in effigy in this town on the 2d. I was glad to
know that the only four whose names I heard men-
tioned in connection with it had not been long resi-
dent here, and had done nothing to secure the respect
of the town.
It is not every man who can be a Christian, what-
ever education you give him. It is a matter of consti-
tution and temperament. I have known many a man
who pretended to be a Christian, in whom it was ridicu-
lous, for he had no genius for it.2
The expression "a liberal education" originally
meant one worthy of freemen. Such is education simply
in a true and broad sense. But education ordinarily
so called the learning of trades and professions which
is designed to enable men to earn their living, or to fit
them for a particular station in life is servile.3
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 444, 445; Misc., Riv. 241,242.]
[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 445; Misc., Riv. 242.]
S[Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, p. 448; Misc., Riv. 245.]
Two hundred years ago is about as great an anti-
quity as we can comprehend or often have to deal
with. It is nearly as good as two thousand to our im-
aginations. It carries us back to the days of aborigines
and the Pilgrims; beyond the limits of oral testimony,
to history which begins already to be enamelled with a
gloss of fable, and we do not quite believe what we read;
to a strange style of writing and spelling and of ex-
pression; to those ancestors whose names we do not
know, and to whom we are related only as we are to the
race generally. It is the age of our very oldest houses
and cultivated trees. Nor is New England very pe-
culiar in this. In England also, a house two hundred
years old, especially if it be a wooden one, is pointed
out as an interesting relic of the past.
When we read the history of the world, centuries
look cheap to us and we find that we had doubted
if the hundred years preceding the life of Herodotus
seemed as great an antiquity to him as a hundred
years does to us. We are inclined to think of all Ro-
mans who lived within five hundred years B. c. as
contemporaries to each other. Yet Time moved at the
same deliberate pace then as now. Pliny the Elder,
who died in the 79th year of the Christian era, speak-
ing of the paper made of papyrus which was then used,
how carefully it was made, says, just as we might
say, as if it were something remarkable: "There are,
thus, ancient memorials in the handwriting of Caius
and Tiberius Gracchus, almost two hundred years
old, which I have seen in the possession of Pomponius
Secundus the poet, a very illustrious citizen. As for
1859] PRESENT, PAST, AND FUTURE 17
the handwriting of Cicero, Augustus, and Virgil, we
very often meet with it still." This too, according to
Pliny, was the age of the oldest wines. "In one year
the quality of all kinds of wine was peculiarly good.
In the consulship of Lucius Opimius, when Caius
Gracchus, disturbing the people with seditions, was
killed, there was that bright and serene weather (ea
caeli temperiesfulsit) which they call a cooking (of the
grape) by the heat of the sun. This was in the year
of the city 634. And some of those wines have lasted
to this day, almost two hundred years, now reduced to
the appearance of candied honey (in speciem redacta
mellis asperi)." 1
How is it that what is actually present and transpir-
ing is commonly perceived by the common sense and
understanding only, is bare and bald, without halo or
the blue enamel of intervening air? But let it be past
or to come, and it is at once idealized. As the man dead
is spiritualized, so the fact remembered is idealized.
It is a deed ripe and with the bloom on it. It is not
simply the understanding now, but the imagination,
that takes cognizance of it. The imagination requires
a long range. It is the faculty of the poet to see present
things as if, in this sense, also past and future, as if
distant or universally significant. We do not know
poets, heroes, and saints for our contemporaries, but
we locate them in some far-off vale, and, the greater
and better, the further off we [are] accustomed to con-
sider them. We believe in spirits, we believe in beauty,
1 Bohn's translation says, "have assumed the consistency of honey
with a rough taste "
but not now and here. They have their abode in the
remote past or in the future.
Dec. 9. Suddenly cold last night. The river and
Fair Haven Pond froze over generally (I see no opening
as I walk) last night, though they were only frozen along
the edges yesterday. This is unusually sudden.
How prominent the late or fall flowers are, now
withered above the snow, the goldenrods and asters,
Roman wormwood, etc., etc.! These late ones have a
sort of life extended into winter, hung with icy jewelry.
I observe at mid-afternoon, the air being very quiet
and serene, that peculiarly softened western sky, which
perhaps is seen commonly after the first snow has
covered the earth. There are many whitish filmy
clouds a third of the way to the zenith, generally long
and narrow, parallel with the horizon, with indistinct
edges, alternating with the blue. And there is just
enough invisible vapor, perhaps from the snow, to
soften the blue, giving it a slight greenish tinge. Thus,
methinks, it often happens that as the weather is harder
the sky seems softer. It is not a cold, hard, glittering
sky, but a warm, soft, filmy one.
The prosaic man sees things baldly, or with the
bodily sense; but the poet sees them clad in beauty,
with the spiritual sense.
Editors are still pretty generally saying that Brown's
was a "crazy scheme," and their one only evidence
and proof of it is that it cost him his life. I have no
doubt that, if he had gone with five thousand men,
liberated a thousand slaves, killed a hundred or two
1859] DR. RIPLEY'S FIRE-WOOD
slaveholders, and had as many more killed on his
own side, but not lost his own life, such would have
been prepared to call it by another name. Yet he has
been far more successful than that. They seem to
know nothing about living or dying for a principle.1
Abel Brooks told me this anecdote on the 28th
"I don't know as you remember Langley Brown.
Dr. Ripley asked him to bring him a load of the best
oak wood he could get. So Langley he picked out
a first-rate load of white oak, and teamed it to his
door. But when the doctor saw it he said at once that
it would n't do, he did n't want any such stuff as that.
Langley next picked out a load of yellow oak and
carried that to the doctor; but the latter answered, as
quickly as before, that that was not what he wanted
at all. Then Langley selected a load of red oak, very
straight and smooth, and carted that to the doctor's,
and the moment he saw it he exclaimed, 'Ah, that's
what I want, Mr. Brown!'"
Dec. 10. Get in my boat, in the snow. The bottom
is coated with a glaze.
Dec. 11. At 2 P. M. begins to snow, and snows till
night. Still, normal storm, large flakes, warm enough,
See one sheldrake in Walden. As I stand on the
railroad at Walden, at R. W. E.'s crossing, the sound
of the snowflakes falling on the dry oak leaves (which
1 [Cape Cod, and Miscellanies, pp. 445, 446; Misc., Riv. 24, 243.]
hold on) is exactly like a rustling produced by a steady
but slight breeze. But there is no wind. It is a gentle
and uninterrupted susurrus.
This light snow, which has been falling for an hour,
resting on the horizontal spray of the hemlocks, pro-
duces the effect of so many crosses, or checker or
Dec. 12. P. M. To Pine Hill and round Walden.
Seeing a little hole in the side of a dead white birch,
about six feet from the ground, I broke it off and found
it to be made where a rotten limb had broken off.
The hole was about an inch over and was of quite
irregular and probably natural outline, and, within,
the rotten wood had been removed to the depth of
two or three inches, and on one side of this cavity,
under the hole, was quite a pile of bird-droppings.
The diameter of the birch was little more than two
inches, if at all. Probably it was the roosting-
place of a chickadee. The bottom was an irregular
surface of the rotten wood, and there was nothing like
There is a certain Irish woodchopper who, when
I come across him at his work in the woods in the win-
ter, never fails to ask me what time it is, as if he were
in haste to take his dinner-pail and go home. This is
not as it should be. Every man, and the woodchopper
among the rest, should love his work as much as the
poet does his. All good political arrangements pro-
ceed on this supposition. If labor mainly, or to any
considerable degree, serves the purpose of a police, to
keep men out of mischief, it indicates a rottenness at
the foundation of our community.
The night comes on early these days, and I soon see
the pine tree tops distinctly outlined against the dun
(or amber) but cold western sky.
The snow having come, we see where is the path of
the partridge,- his comings and goings from copse
to copse, and now first, as it were, we have the fox
for our nightly neighbor, and countless tiny deer mice.
So, perchance, if a still finer substance should fall from
heaven (iodine?), something delicate enough to receive
the trace of their footsteps, we should see where un-
suspected spirits and faery visitors had hourly crossed
our steps, had held conventions and transacted their
affairs in our midst. No doubt such subtle spirits trans-
act their affairs in our midst, and we may perhaps in-
vent some sufficiently delicate surface to catch the im-
pression of them.
If in the winter there are fewer men in the fields
and woods, as in the country generally, you see
the tracks of those who had preceded you, and so are
more reminded of them than in summer.
As I talked with the woodchopper who had just
cleared the top of Emerson's I got a new view of the
mountains over his pile of wood in the foreground.
They were very grand in their snowy mantle, which had
a slight tinge of purple. But when afterward I looked
at them from a higher hill, where there was no wood-
pile in the foreground, they affected me less. It is now
that these mountains, in color as well as form, most
resemble the clouds.
I am inclined to think of late that as much depends
on the state of the bowels as of the stars. As are your
bowels, so are the stars.
Dec. 13. P. M. On river to Fair Haven Pond.
My first true winter walk is perhaps that which I
take on the river, or where I cannot go in the summer.
It is the walk peculiar to winter, and now first I take
it. I see that the fox too has already taken the same
walk before me, just along the edge of the button-
bushes, where not even he can go in the summer. We
both turn our steps hither at the same time.
There is now, at 2.30 P. M., the melon-rind arrange-
ment of the clouds. Really parallel columns of fine
mackerel sky, reaching quite across the heavens from
west to east, with clear intervals of blue sky, and a fine-
grained vapor like spun glass extending in the same
direction beneath the former. In half an hour all this
mackerel sky is gone.
What an ever-changing scene is the sky with its drift-
ing cirrhus and stratus! The spectators are not re-
quested to take a recess of fifteen minutes while the
scene changes, but, walking commonly with our faces
to the earth, our thoughts revert to other objects, and
as often as we look up the scene has changed. Now,
I see, it is a column of white vapor reaching quite across
the sky, from west to east, with locks of fine hair, or
tow that is carded, combed out on each side, sur-
prising touches here and there, which show a peculiar
state of the atmosphere, No doubt the best weather-
signs are in these forms which the vapor takes. When
1859] WATCHING THE CLOUDS
I next look up, the locks of hair are perfect fir trees
with their recurved branches. (These trees extend
at right angles from the side of the main column.)
This appearance is changed all over the sky in one
minute. Again it is pieces of asbestos, or the vapor
takes the curved form of the surf or breakers, and
again of flames.
But how long can a man be in a mood to watch the
heavens? That melon-rind arrangement, so very com-
mon, is perhaps a confirmation of Wise the balloonist's
statement that at a certain height there is a current of
air moving from west to east. Hence we so commonly
see the clouds arranged in parallel columns in that
What a spectacle the subtle vapors that have their
habitation in the sky present these winter days! You
have not only ever-varying forms of a given type of
cloud, but various types at different heights or hours.
It is a scene, for variety, for beauty and grandeur, out
of all proportion to the attention it gets. Who watched
the forms of the clouds over this part of the earth a
thousand years ago? Who watches them to-day?
Now that the river is frozen we have a sky under our
feet also. Going over black ice three or four inches
thick, only reassured by seeing the thickness at the
cracks, I see it richly marked internally with large whit-
ish figures suggesting rosettes of ostrich-feathers or coral.
These at first appear to be a dust on the surface, but,
looking closely, are found to be at various angles with
it internally, in the grain. The work of crystallization.
Often you see as it were a sheaf of feathered arrows
five or six feet long, very delicate but perfectly straight,
their planes making a very slight angle with the sur-
face of the ice, and yet no seam is to be detected. The
black floor is by these divided into polygonal segments,
for the most part geometrically straight-sided. Their
position merely suggests a cleavage which has no exist-
ence. Perhaps it is the angle of excidence answering
to the angle of incidence at which the sun's light and
heat strikes the ice at different hours!!
I walk thus along the riverside, perhaps between the
button-bushes and the meadow, where the bleached and
withered grass the Panicum virgatum and blue-joint
and wool-grass rustle amid the osiers which have
saved them from the scythe.
When the snow is only thus deep, the yellowish straw-.
color of the sedge in the meadows rising above the
snow is now first appreciated, seen between the ice and
the snow-clad land.
Near the mouth of Well Meadow Brook, I see a mus-
quash under the black ice of the pond. It is ten or
twelve rods from a cabin, which must be the nearest
open place, and it moves off slowly, pushing against the
ice with its feet, toward the middle of the pond, and
as I follow, it at length sinks to the bottom and is lost.
Did it go down for concealment or for air? Here was
a musquash at least a dozen rods from any hole, and
it did not swim toward its cabin.
I see, in the Pleasant Meadow field near the pond,
some little masses of snow, such as I noticed yester-
day in the open land by the railroad causeway at the
Cut. I could not account for them then, for I did not
1859] SNOWBALLS MADE BY THE WIND 25
go to them, but thought they might be the remainders
of drifts which had been blown away, leaving little
perpendicular masses six inches or a foot higher than
the surrounding snow in the midst of the fields. Now
I detect the cause. These (which I see to-day) are the
remains of snowballs which the wind of yesterday
rolled up in the moist snow. The morning was mild,
and the snow accordingly soft and moist yet light, but in
the middle of the day a strong northwest wind arose,
and before night it became quite hard to bear.
These masses which I examined in the Pleasant
Meadow field were generally six or eight inches high -
though they must have wasted and settled considerably
- and a little longer than high, presenting a more or
less fluted appearance externally. They were hollow
cylinders about two inches in diameter within, like
muffs. Here were a dozen within two rods square, and
I saw them in three or four localities miles apart, in
almost any place exposed to the sweep of the northwest
wind. There was plainly to be seen the furrow in the
snow produced when they were rolled up, in the form
of a very narrow pyramid, commencing perhaps two
inches wide, and in the course of ten feet (sometimes of
four or five only) becoming six or eight inches wide,
when the mass was too heavy to be moved further.
The snow had been thus rolled up even, like a car-
pet. This occurred on perfectly level ground and also
where the ground rose gently to the southeast. The
ground was not laid bare. That wind must have rolled
up masses thus till they were a foot in diameter. It is
certain, then, that a sudden strong wind when the snow
is moist but light (it had fallen the afternoon previous)
will catch and roll it up as a boy rolls up his ball.
These white balls are seen far off over the fields.
When I reach the causeway at the Cut, returning,
the sun has just set, a perfect winter sunset, so fair
and pure, with its golden and purple isles. I think
the summer rarely equals it. There are real damask-
colored isles or continents north of the sun's place,
and further off northeast they, pass into bluish purple.
Hayden's house, over which I see them, seems the
abode of the blessed. The east horizon also is purple.
But that part of the parallel cloud-columns overhead
is now invisible. At length the purple travels west-
ward, as the sun sinks lower below the horizon, the
clouds overhead are brought out, and so the purple
glow glides down the western sky.
Virgil's account of winter occupations in the First
Georgic, line 291, applies well enough to New Eng-
"Some keep at work by the late light of the winter
Fire, and point torches with a sharp iron.
In the meanwhile the wife, relieving her long labor with her
1859] FROM THE FIRST GEORGIC
Singing, thickens the webs with the shrill slay;
Or boils down the liquor of sweet must with fire,
And skims off the foam of the boiling kettle with leaves.
Winter is an idle time to the husbandman.
In cold weather they commonly enjoy what they have laid up,
And jovial they give themselves up to mutual feasting:
Genial winter invites this and relaxes their cares;
As when now the laden keel has touched its port,
And the joyful sailors have placed a crown on the stern.
However, now is the time to gather acorns,
And laurel berries, and the olive, and bloody (colored) myrtle berries;
Now to set snares for cranes,1 and deer,
And chase the long-eared hares;
When the snow lies deep, and the rivers are full of drifting ice."
I saw yesterday where fox-hunters with a sleigh and
hounds had improved the first shallow snow to track their
game. They thread the woods by old and grown-up and
forgotten paths, where no others would think to drive.
Dec. 14. At 2 P. M. begins to snow again. I walk to
Snow-storms might be classified. This is a fine, dry
snow, drifting nearly horizontally from the north, so that
it is quite blinding to face, almost as much so as sand.
It is cold also. It is drifting but not accumulating fast.
I can see the woods about a quarter of a mile distant
through it. That of the llth was a still storm, of large
flakes falling gently in the quiet air, like so many white
feathers descending in different directions when seen
against a wood-side, the regular snow-storm such as
is painted. A myriad falling flakes weaving a coarse
I Say partridges.
garment by which the eye is amused. The snow was a
little moist and the weather rather mild. Also I remem-
ber the perfectly crystalline or star snows, when each
flake is a perfect six(? )-rayed wheel. This must be the
chef-d'euvre of the Genius of the storm. Also there
is the pellet or shot snow, which consists of little dry
spherical pellets the size of robin-shot. This, I think,
belongs to cold weather. Probably never have much of
it. Also there is sleet, which is half snow, half rain.
The Juncus tennis, with its conspicuous acheniums,
is very noticeable now, rising above the snow in the
wood-paths, commonly aslant.
Dec. 15. The first kind of snow-storm, or that of
yesterday, which ceased in the night after some three
inches had fallen, was that kind that makes handsome
drifts behind the walls. There are no drifts equal to
these behind loosely built stone walls, the wind passing
between the stones. Slight as this snow was, these
drifts now extend back four or five feet and as high as
the wall, on the north side of the Corner Bridge road.
The snow is scooped out in the form of easy-chairs,
or of shells or plinths, if that is the name for them.
The backs of the chairs often inclining to fall off.
The backs of the chairs often inclining to fall off.
1859] THE "PHILOSOPHY" OF WOOD 29
A man killed a wild goose a day or two since in
Spencer Brook, near Legross's.
I hear from J. [? ] Moore that one man in Bedford
has got eighteen minks the last fall.1
Philosophy is a Greek word by good rights, and
it stands almost for a Greek thing. Yet some rumor
of it has reached the commonest mind. M. Miles,
who came to collect his wood bill to-day, said, when
I objected to the small size of his wood, that it was
necessary to split wood fine in order to cure it well,
that he had found that wood that was more than four
inches in diameter would not dry, and moreover a good
deal depended on the manner in which it was corded
up in the woods. He piled his high and tightly. If
this were not well done the stakes would spread and
the wood lie loosely, and so the rain and snow find
their way into it. And he added, "I have handled a
good deal of wood, and I think that I understand the
philosophy of it."
Dec. 16. A. M. -To Cambridge, where I read in
Gerard's Herbal.2 His admirable though quaint de-
scriptions are, to my mind, greatly superior to the
modern more scientific ones. He describes not accord-
ing to rule but to his natural delight in the plants.
He brings them vividly before you, as one- who has
seen and delighted in them. It is almost as good as
to see the plants themselves. It suggests that we can-
not too often get rid of the barren assumption that is
SFarmer says he probably bought most of them.
2 Vide extracts from preface made in October, 1859.
in our science. His leaves are leaves; his flowers,
flowers; his fruit, fruit. They are green and colored
and fragrant. It is a man's knowledge added to a
child's delight. Modern botanical descriptions ap-
proach ever nearer to the dryness of an algebraic
formula, as if x + y were = to a love-letter. It is
the keen joy and discrimination of the child who
has just seen a flower for the first time and comes
running in with it to its friends. How much better
to describe your object in fresh English words rather
than in these conventional Latinisms! He has really
seen, and smelt, and tasted, and reports his sensa-
Bought a book at Little & Brown's, paying a nine-
pence more on a volume than it was offered me for
elsewhere. The customer thus pays for the more ele-
gant style of the store.
Dec. 17. P. M. To Walden.
The snow being some three or four inches deep, I
see rising above it, generally, at my old bean-field,
only my little white pines set last spring in the midst
of an immense field of Solidago nemoralis, with a lit-
tle sweet-fern (i. e. a large patch of it on the north
side). What a change there will be in a few years,
this little .forest of goldenrod giving place to a forest
By the side of the Pout's Nest, I see on the pure
white snow what looks like dust for half a dozen inches
under a twig. Looking closely, I find that the twig is
hardhack and the dust its slender, light-brown, chaffy-
1859] SEEDS AS FOOD FOR BIRDS
looking seed, which falls still in copious showers, dust-
ing the snow, when I jar it; and here are the tracks
of a sparrow which has jarred the twig and picked
the minute seeds a long time, making quite a hole
in the snow. The seeds are so fine that it must have
got more snow than seed at each peck. But they prob-
ably look large to its microscopic eyes. I see, when
I jar it, that a meadow-sweet close by has quite sim-
ilar, but larger, seeds. This the reason, then, that
these plants rise so high above the snow and retain
their seed, dispersing it on the least jar over each suc-
cessive layer of snow beneath them; or it is carried
to a distance by the wind. What abundance and
what variety in the diet of these small granivorous
birds, while I find only a few nuts still! These stiff
weeds which no snow can break down hold their pro-
vender. What the cereals are to men, these are to the
sparrows. The only threshing they require is that the
birds fly against their spikes or stalks. A little further
I see the seed-box (?) (Ludwigia) full of still smaller,
yellowish seeds. And on the ridge north is the track
of a partridge amid the shrubs. It has hopped up to
the low clusters of smooth sumach berries, sprinkled
the snow with them, and eaten all but a few. Also, here
only, or where it has evidently jarred them down -
whether intentionally or not, I am not sure are the
large oval seeds of the stiff-stalked lespedeza, which I
suspect it ate, with the sumach berries. There is much
solid food in them. When the snow is deep the birds
could easily pick the latter out of the heads as they
stand on the snow.
I observe, then, eaten by birds to-day, the seed of
hardhack and meadow-sweet, sumach, and probably
lespedeza, and even seed-box.
Under the hill, on the southeast side of R. W. E.'s
-lot, where the hemlock stands, I see many tracks of
squirrels. The dark, thick green of the hemlock (amid
the pines) seems to attract them as a covert. The snow
under the hemlock is strewn with the scales of its cones,
which they (and perhaps birds?) have stripped off,
and some of its little winged seeds. It is pleasant to see
the tracks of these squirrels (I am not sure whether
they are red or gray or both, for I see none) leading
straight from the base of one tree to that of another,
thus leaving untrodden triangles, squares, and polygons
of every form, bounded by much trodden highways.
One, two, three, and the track is lost on the upright
bole of a pine, as if they had played at base-running
from goal to goal, while pine cones were thrown at them
on the way. The tracks of two or three suggest a
multitude. You come thus on the tracks of these frisky
and volatile (semivolitant) creatures in the midst of
perfect stillness and solitude, as you might stand in
a hall half an hour after the dancers had departed.
I see no nests
in the trees,
.. but numerous
the snow into the earth, whence they have emerged.
They have loitered but little on the snow, spending
their time chiefly on the trees, their castles, when
abroad. The snow is strewn not only with hemlock
1859] THE SQUIRRELS' WINTER FOOD 33
scales, but, under other trees, with the large white
pine scales for rods together where there is no track,
the wind having scattered them as they fell, and also
the shells of hickory-nuts. It reminds me of the plat-
form before a grocery where nuts are sold. You see
many places where they have probed the snow for these
white pine cones, evidently those which they cut off
green and which accordingly have not opened so as
to drop the seeds. This was perhaps the design in cut-
ting them off so early, thus to preserve them under
the snow (not dispersed). Do they find them by the
scent ? At any rate they will dig down through the snow
and come right upon a pine cone or a hickory-nut or
an acorn, which you and I cannot do.
Two or three acres of Walden, off the bar, not yet
frozen. Saw in [it] a good-sized black duck, which did
not dive while I looked. I suspect it must have been
a Fuligula, though I saw no white.
Dec. 18. Rains.
P. M. To Assabet opposite Tarbell's, via Abel
It rains but little this afternoon, though there is no
sign of fair weather. Only the mist appears thinner here
and there from time to time. It is a lichen day. The
pitch pines on the south of the road at the Colburn farm
are very inspiriting to behold. Their green is as much
enlivened and freshened as that of the lichens. It sug-
gests a sort of sunlight on them, though not even a
patch of clear sky is seen to-day. As dry and olive
or slate-colored lichens are of a fresh and living green,
so the already green pine-needles have acquired a far
livelier tint, as if they enjoyed this moisture as much
as the lichens do. They seem to be lit up more than
when the sun falls on them. Their trunks, and those
of trees generally, being wet, are very black, and the
bright lichens on them are so much the more remark-
I see three shrikes in different places to-day, two
on the top of apple trees, sitting still in the storm, on
the lookout. They fly low to another tree when dis-
turbed, much like a bluebird, and jerk their tails once
or twice when they alight.
Apples are thawed now and are very good.. Their
juice is the best kind of bottled cider that I know.
They are all good in this state, and your jaws are the
The thick, low cloud or mist makes novel prospects
for us. In the southwest horizon I see a darker mass
of it stretched along, seen against itself. The oak woods
a quarter of a mile off appear more uniformly red than
ever. They are not only redder for being wet, but,
through the obscurity of the mist, one leaf runs into an-
other and the whole mass makes one impression. The
withered oak leaves, being thoroughly saturated with
moisture, are of a livelier color. Also some of the most
withered white oak leaves with roundish black spots
like small lichens are quite interesting now.
Dec. 19. Yarrow 2 too is full of seed now, and the
common johnswort has some seed in it still.
I [Excursions, pp. 319, 320; Riv. 393.] 2 Tansy?
1859] THE DIVINITY OF YOUTH
Farmer has lately been riding about in the neighbor-
ing towns west and northwest, as far as Townsend, buy-
ing up their furs, mink, musquash, and fox. Says
that Stow is as good a town for mink as any, but none
of them have more musquash than Concord. He,
however, saw but one mink-track in all his rides, and
thinks that they are scarce this year.
When a man is young and his constitution and body
have not acquired firmness, i. e., before he has arrived
at middle age, he is not an assured inhabitant of the
earth, and his compensation is that he is not quite
earthy, there is something peculiarly tender and divine
about him. His sentiments and his weakness, nay, his
very sickness and the greater uncertainty of his fate,
seem to ally him to a noble race of beings, to whom he
in part belongs, or with whom he is in communica-
tion. The young man is a demigod; the grown man,
alas! is commonly a mere mortal. He is but half here,
he knows not the men of this world, the powers that
be. They know him not. Prompted by the reminis-
cence of that other sphere from which he so lately ar-
rived, his actions are unintelligible to his seniors. He
bathes in light. He is interesting as a stranger from
another sphere. He really thinks and talks about a
larger sphere of existence than this world. It takes
him forty years to accommodate himself to the carapax
of this world. This is the age of poetry. Afterward
he may be the president of a bank, and go the way of
all flesh. But a man of settled views, whose thoughts
are few and hardened like his bones, is truly mortal,
and his only resource is to say his prayers.
Dec. 20. A. M. To T. Wheeler wood-lot.
Snows very fast, large flakes, a very lodging snow,
quite moist; turns to rain in afternoon. If we leave
the sleigh for a moment, it whitens the seat, which
must be turned over. We are soon thickly covered,
and it lodges on the twigs of the trees and bushes, -
there being but little wind, giving them a very white
and soft, spiritual look. Gives them a still, soft, and
light look. When the flakes fall thus large and fast
and are so moist and melting, we think it will not last
long, and this turned to rain in a few hours, after three
or four inches had fallen.
To omit the first mere whitening, -
There was the snow of the 4th December.
llth was a lodging snow, it being mild and still, like
to-day (only it was not so moist). Was succeeded next
day noon by a strong and cold northwest wind.
14th, a fine, dry, cold, driving and drifting storm.
20th (to-day's), a very lodging, moist, and large-
flaked snow, turning to rain. To be classed with the
11th in the main. This wets the woodchopper about
as much as rain.
Dec. 21. A. M. A fine winter day and rather mild.
Ride to T. Wheeler's lot. See a red squirrel out in two
places. Do they not come out chiefly in the forenoon?
Also a large flock of snow buntings, fair and pleasant
as it is. Their whiteness, like the snow, is their most
The snow of yesterday having turned to rain in the
afternoon, the snow is no longer (now that it is frozen)
1859] THE SNOW WRINKLED WITH AGE 37
a uniformly level white, as when it had just fallen,
but on all declivities you see it, even from a great dis-
tance, strongly marked with countless furrows or chan-
nels. These are about three inches deep, more or less
parallel where the rain ran down. On hillsides these
reach from top to bottom and give them a peculiar
combed appearance. Hillsides around a hollow are
thus very regularly marked by lines converging toward
the centre at the bottom. In level fields the snow is
not thus furrowed, but dimpled with a myriad little
hollows where the water settled, and perhaps answer-
ing slightly to the inequalities of the ground. In level
woods I do not see this regular dimpling the rain
being probably conducted down the trunks nor the
furrows on hillsides; the rain has been differently
distributed by the trees.'
This makes a different impression from the fresh
and uniformly level white surface of recently fallen
snow. It is now, as it were, wrinkled with age. The
incipient slosh of yesterday is now frozen, and makes
good sleighing and a foundation for more.
Dec. 22. Another fine winter day.
P. M. To Flint's Pond.
C. is inclined to walk in the road, it being better
walking there, and says: "You don't wish to see any-
thing but the sky to-day and breathe this air. You
could walk in the city to-day, just as well as in the
country. You only wish to be out." This was because
I inclined to walk in the woods or by the river.
I Vide plate [sic] [three] pages forward.
As we passed under the elm beyond George Hey-
wood's, I looked up and saw a fiery hangbird's nest
dangling over the road. What a reminiscence of sum-
mer, a fiery hangbird's nest dangling from an elm over
the road when perhaps the thermometer is down to
- 20 (?), and the traveller goes beating his arms be-
neath it! It is hard to recall the strain of that bird then.
We pause and gaze into the Mill Brook on the Turn-
pike bridge. C. says that in Persia they call the ripple-
marks on sandy bottoms "chains" or "chain-work."
I see a good deal of cress there, on the bottom, for a rod
or two, the only green thing to be seen. No more slimy
than it usually is beneath the water in summer. Is
not this the plant which most, or most conspicuously,
preserves its greenness in the winter? Is it not now
most completely in its summer state of any plant? So
far as the water and the mud and the cress go, it is
a summer scene. It is green as ever, and waving in
the stream as in summer.
How nicely is Nature adjusted! The least disturbance
of her equilibrium is betrayed and corrects itself. As
I looked down on the surface of the brook, I was
surprised to see a leaf floating, as I thought, up the
stream, but I was mistaken. The motion of a particle
of dust on the surface of any brook far inland shows
which way the earth declines toward the sea, which
way lies the constantly descending route, and the only
I see in the chestnut woods near Flint's Pond where
squirrels have collected the small chestnut burs left
on the trees and opened them, generally at the base of
the trunks on the snow. These are, I think, all small
and imperfect burs, which do not so much as open in
the fall and are rejected then, but, hanging on the tree,
they have this use at least, as the squirrels' winter food.
Three men are fishing on Flint's Pond, where the
ice is seven or eight inches thick. I look back to the
wharf rock shore and see that rush (cladium I have
called it), the warmest object in the landscape, a
narrow line of warm yellow rushes for they reflect
the western light, along the edge of the somewhat
snowy pond and next the snow-clad and wooded shore.
This rush, which is comparatively inconspicuous in
the summer, becomes thus in the winter afternoons
a conspicuous and interesting object, lit up by the
The fisherman stands erect and still on the ice, await-
ing our approach, as usual forward to say that he has
had no luck. He has been here since early morning,
arid for some reason or other the fishes won't bite. You
won't catch him here again in a hurry. They all tell
the same story. The amount of it is he has had "fisher-
man's luck," and if you walk that way you may find
him at his old post to-morrow. It is hard, to be sure, -
four little" fishes to be divided between three men, and
two and a half miles to walk; and you have only got
a more ravenous appetite for the supper which you
have not earned. However, the pond floor is not a
bad place to spend a winter day.
On what I will call Sassafras Island, in this pond,
I notice the largest and handsomest high blueberry
bush that I ever saw, about ten feet high. It divides
at the ground into four stems, all very large and the
largest three inches in diameter (one way) at three feet
high, and at the ground, where they seem to form one
trunk (at least grown together), nine inches in diame-
ter. These stems rise upward, spreading a little in
their usual somewhat zigzag manner, and are very
handsomely clothed with large gray and yellow lichens
with intervals of the (smoothish ? and) finely divided
bark. The bark is quite reddish near the ground. The
top, which is spreading and somewhat flattish or cor-
ymbose, consists of a great many fine twigs, which
give it a thick and dark appearance against the sky
compared with the more open portion beneath. It
was perfectly sound and vigorous.
In a (apparently kingbird's ?) nest on this island I saw
three cherry-stones, as if it had carried home this fruit
to its young. It was, outside, of gnaphalium and sad-
dled on a low limb. Could it have been a cherry-bird ?
The cladium (?) retains its seeds over the ice, little
conical, sharp-pointed, flat-based, dark-brown, shining
seeds. I notice some seeds left on a large dock, but
see none of pars-
nips or other um-
belliferous plants. \ )
The furrows in
the snow on the .
hillsides look some- .. *
what like this: -
Dec. 28. The third fine, clear, bright, and rather mild
1859] FISHES IN A NEWLY DUG POND 41
P. M. To Ball's Hill across meadow.
The gardener at Sleepy Hollow says that they caught
many small pouts and some pickerel that weighed half
a pound (!) in the little pond lately dug there.' I think
this pond, say a third of an acre, was commenced about
three years ago and completed last summer. It has no
inlet and a very slight outlet, a shallow ditch that pre-
viously existed in the meadow, but in digging they have
laid open two or three very deep spring-holes, and the
pickerel were found in them. These fishes, no doubt,
came up the shallow ditch. This proves that if you
dig a pond in a meadow and connect it by the small-
est rill or ditch with other water in which fishes live,
however far off, the pond will be at once stocked
with fishes. They are always ready to extend their
The Great Meadows are more than half covered
with ice, and now I see that there was a very slight fall
of snow last night. It is only betrayed here, having
covered the ice about an eighth of an inch thick, ex-
cept where there are cracks running quite across the
meadow, where the water has oozed a foot or two each
way and dissolved the snow, making conspicuous dark
In this slight snow I am surprised to see countless
tracks of small birds, which have run over it in every
direction from one end to the other of this great
meadow since morning. By the length of the hind toe I
know them to be snow buntings. Indeed, soon after
I see them running still on one side of the meadow.
a Vide Oct. 10, 1860.
I was puzzled to tell what they got by running there.
Yet I [saw them] stopping repeatedly and picking up
something. Of course I thought of those caterpillars
which are washed out by a rain and freshet at this sea-
son, but I could not find one of them. It rained on
the 18th and again the 20th, and over a good part of
the meadow the top of the stubble left by the scythe
rises a little above the ice, i. e. an inch or two, not enough
to disturb a skater. The birds have run here chiefly,
visiting each little collection or tuft of stubble, and
found their food chiefly in and about this thin stubble.
I examined such places a long time and very carefully,
but I could not find there the seed of any plant whatever.
It was merely the stubble of sedge, with never any
head left, and a few cranberry leaves projecting. All
that I could find was pretty often (in some places very
often) a little black, or else a brown, spider (sometimes
quite a large one) motionless on the snow or ice; and
therefore I am constrained to think that they eat them,
for I saw them running and picking in exactly such
places a little way from me, and here were their tracks
all around. Yet they are called graminivorous [sic].
Wilson says that he has seen them feeding on the seeds
of aquatic plants on the Seneca River, clinging to their
heads. I think he means wool-grass. Yet its seeds are
too minute and involved in the wool. Though there
was wool-grass hereabouts, the birds did not go near it.
To be sure, it has but little seed now. If they are so
common at the extreme north, where there is so little
vegetation but perhaps a great many spiders, is it not
likely that they feed on these insects ?
1859] A FLOCK OF SNOW BUNTINGS
It is interesting to see how busy this flock is, ex-
ploring this great meadow to-day. If it were not for
this slight snow, revealing their tracks but hardly at
all concealing the stubble, I should not suspect it,
though I might see them at their work. Now I see them
running briskly over the ice, most commonly near the
shore, where there is most stubble (though very little);
and they explore the ground so fast that they are con-
tinually changing their ground, and if I do not keep
my eye on them I lose the direction. Then here they
come, with a stiff rip of their wings as they suddenly
wheel, and those peculiar rippling notes, flying low
quite across the meadow, half a mile even, to explore
the other side, though that too is already tracked by
them. Not the fisher nor skater range the meadow a
thousandth part so much in a week as these birds in
a day. They hardly notice me as they come on. Indeed,
the flock, flying about as high as my head, divides,
and half passes on each side of me. Thus they sport
over these broad meadows of ice this pleasant winter
day. The spiders lie torpid and plain to see on the
snow, and if it is they that they are after they never
know what kills them.
I have loitered so long on the meadow that before I
get to Ball's Hill those patches of bare ice (where water
has oozed out and frozen) already reflect a green light
which advertises me of the lateness of the hour. You
may walk eastward in the winter afternoon till the ice
begins to look green, half to three quarters of an hour
before sunset, the sun having sunk behind you to the
proper angle. Then it is time to turn your steps home-
ward. Soon after,' too, the ice began to boom, or fire
its evening gun, another warning that the end of the
day was at hand, and a little after the snow reflected
a distinct rosy light, the sun having reached the grosser
atmosphere of the earth. These signs successively
prompt us once more to retrace our steps. Even the
fisherman, who perhaps has not observed any sign but
that the sun is ready to sink beneath the horizon, is
winding up his lines and starting for home; or perhaps
he leaves them to freeze in.
In a clear but pleasant winter day, I walk away till
the ice begins to look green and I hear it boom, or per-
haps till the snow reflects a rosy light.
I ascended Ball's Hill to see the sun set. How red
its light at this hour! I covered its orb with my hand,
and let its rays light up the fine woollen fibres of my
glove. They were a dazzling rose-color. It takes the
gross atmosphere of earth to make this redness.
You notice the long and slender light-brown or gray-
ish downy racemes of the clethra seeds about the edges
of ponds and pond-holes. The pods contain many
very minute chaffy-looking seeds.
You find in the cluster of the sweet-fern fruit now
one or two rather large flattish conical hard-shelled
seeds with a small meat.
The pinweed the larger (say thymifolia) pods
open, showing their three pretty leather-brown inner
divisions open like a little calyx, a third or half contain-
ing still the little hemispherical or else triangular red-
dish-brown seeds. They are hard and abundant. That
I About same time, as noticed two or three days.
LIATRIS IN WINTER
large juncus (paradoxus-like ?) of the river meadows -
long white-tailed seed just rising above the ice is full
of seed now, glossy, pale-brown, white-tailed, chaffy to
look at. The wool-grass wool is at least half gone,
and its minute almost white [?] seed or achenium in
it; but a little is left, not more than the thirtieth of an
inch long. It looks too minute and involved in the wool
for a snow bunting to eat. The above plants are all
now more or less recurved, bent by the cold and the
blasts of autumn.
The now bare or empty heads of the liatris look
somewhat like dusky daisies surmounted by a little but-
ton instead of a disk. The last, a stiff, round, parch-
ment-like skin, the base on which its flowerets stood,
is pierced by many little round holes just like the end
of a thimble, where the cavities are worn through, and
it is convex like that. It readily scales off and you can
look through it.
I noticed on the 18th that the plumes of the pine
which had been covered with snow and glaze and were
then thawed and wet with the mist and rain were very
much contracted or narrowed, -
not and this gave a peculiar and more
open character to the tree.
Dec. 24. P. M. -To Flint's Pond.
A strong and very cold northwest wind. I think that
the cold winds are oftenest not northwest, but northwest
by west. There is, in all, an acre or two in Walden not
yet frozen, though half of it has been frozen more than
I measure the blueberry bush on Flint's Pond Island.
The five stems are united at the ground, so as to make
one round and solid trunk thirty-one inches in circum-
ference, but probably they have grown together there,
for they become separate at about six inches above.
They may have sprung from different seeds of one berry.
At three feet from the ground they measure eleven
inches, eleven, eleven and a half, eight, and six and a
half, or, on an average, nine and a half. I climbed up
and found a comfortable seat with my feet four feet
above the ground, and there was room for three or four
more there, but unfortunately this was not the season
There were several other clumps of large ones there.
One clump close by the former contained twenty-three
stems within a diameter of three feet, and their aver-
age diameter at three feet from the ground was about
two inches. These had not been cut, because they stood
on this small island which has little wood beside, and
therefore had grown the larger. The two prevailing
lichens on them were Parmelia caperata and saxatilis,
extending quite around their trunks; also a little of a
parmelia more glaucous than the last one, and a little
green usnea and a little ramalina.1
This island appears to be a mere stony ridge three or
four feet high, with a very low wet shore on each side,
I Vide specimens in drawer.
A BLUEBERRY GROVE
even as if the water and ice had shoved it up, as at the
other end of the pond.
I saw the tracks of a partridge more than half an inch
deep in the ice, extending from this island to the shore,
she having walked there in the slosh. They were quite
perfect and reminded me of bird-tracks in stone. She
may have gone there to bud on these blueberry trees. I
saw where she spent the night at the bottom of that
largest clump, in the snow.
This blueberry grove must be well known to the
partridges; no doubt they distinguish their tops from
Perhaps yet larger ones were seen here before we
came to cut off the trees. Judging from those whose
rings I have counted, the largest of those stems must be
about sixty years old. The stems rise up in a winding
and zigzag manner, one sometimes resting in the forks
of its neighbor. There were many more clumps of large
Dec. 25. The last our coldest night, as yet. No doubt
Walden froze over last night entirely.
P. M. To Carlisle Bridge on river and meadow.
I now notice a great many flat, annular, glow-worm-
like worms frozen in the ice of the Great Meadow,
which were evidently washed out of the meadow-grass
lately; but they are almost all within the ice, inacces-
sible to birds; are only in certain parts of the meadow,
especially about that island in it, where it is shallow.
It is as if they were created only to be frozen, for this
must be their annual fate. I see one which seems to
be a true glow-worm.1 The transparent ice is specked
black with them, as if they were cranberry leaves in
it. You can hardly get one out now without breaking
it, they are so brittle. The snow buntings are about,
as usual, but I do not think that they were after these
insects the other day.
Standing by the side of the river at Eleazer Davis's
Hill, prepared to pace across it, I hear a sharp
fine screep from some bird, which at length I detect
amid the button-bushes and willows. The screep was
a note of recognition meant for me. I saw that it was
a novel bird to me. Watching it a long time, with
my glass and without it, I at length made out these
marks: It was slate-colored above and dirty-white
beneath, with a broad and very conspicuous bright-
orange crown, which in some lights was red-orange,
along the middle of the head; this was bounded on
each side by a black segment, beneath which was a
yellow or whitish line. There was also some yellow
and a black spot on the middle of the closed wings, and
yellow within the tail-feathers. The ends of the wings
and the tail above were dusky, and the tail forked.
It was so very active that I could not get a steady
view of it. It kept drifting about behind the stems of
the button-bushes, etc., half the time on the ice, and
again on the lower twigs, busily looking for its prey,
turning its body this way and that with great restless-
ness, appearing to hide from me behind the stems of
the button-bush and the withered coarse grass. When I
1 No. I compare it with description Sept. 16, 1857, and find it is
not the glow-worm, though somewhat like it.
1859] A GOLDEN-CRESTED WREN
came nearest it would utter its peculiar screep, or screep
screen, or even screep screep screep. Yet it was unwill-
ing to leave the spot, and when I cornered it, it hopped
back within ten feet of me. However, I could see its
brilliant crown, even between the twigs of the button-
bush and through the withered grass, when I could
detect no other part.
It was evidently the golden-crested wren, which I
have not made out before. This little creature was con-
tentedly seeking its food here alone this cold winter day
on the shore of our frozen river. If it does not visit us
often it is strange that it should choose such a season.
I see that the strong wind of yesterday has blown
off quite a number of white pine cones, which lie on the
ice opposite E. Davis's Hill.
As I crossed Flint's about 4 P. M. yesterday on my
way home, when it was bitter cold, the ice cracked
with an exceedingly brittle shiver, as if all the pond's
crockery had gone to smash, suggesting a high degree
of tension, even of dryness, such as you hear only
in very cold weather, right under my feet, as if I
had helped to crack it. It is the report of the artillery
which the frost foe has discharged at me. As you are
swiftly pacing homeward, taking your way across the
pond, with your mittened hands in your pocket and
your cap drawn down over your ears, the pond loves
to give a rousing crack right under your feet, and
you hear the whole pond titter at your surprise. It is
bracing its nerves against the unheard-of cold that is
at hand, and it snaps some of them. You hear this
best where there is considerable depth and breadth of
water, -on ponds rather than on the river and meadow.
The cold strains it up so tight that some of the strings
snap. On hearing that sound you redouble your haste
toward home, where vestal virgins keep alive a little
fire still. In the same manner the very surface of the
earth cracks in frosty weather.
To-night, when I get just below Davis's Hill the ice
displays its green flag and fires its evening gun as a
warning to all walkers to return home.
Consider how the pickerel-fisher lives. G., whom I
saw at Flint's Pond on the 22d, had been there all
day, eaten all the dinner he had brought, and caught
only four little fish, hardly enough for his supper, if
he should cook them. His companion swore that he
would not go a-fishing again for ten years. But G.
said nothing of that sort. The next day I found him
five miles from here on the other side of the town,
with his lines set in the bay of the river off Ball's Hill.
There, too, he had been tramping about from hole to
hole, this time alone, and he had done a trifle
better than the day before, for he had caught three
little fish and one great one. But instead of giving up
here, he concluded to leave his lines in overnight, -
since his bait would die if he took them off, and re-
turn the next morning. The next was a bitter cold day,
but I hear that Goodwin had some fish to dispose of.
Probably not more than a dollar's worth, however.
You may think that you need take no care to pre-
serve your woodland, but every tree comes either from
the stump of another tree or from a seed. With the pre-
sent management, will there always be a fresh stump,
1859] HEADGEAR OF MEN AND WOMEN 51
or a nut in the soil, think you? Will not the nobler
kinds of trees, which bear comparatively few seeds,
grow more and more scarce? What is become of our
chestnut wood ? There are but few stumps for sprouts
to spring from, and, as for the chestnuts, there are not
enough for the squirrels, and nobody is planting them.
The sweet-gale rises above the ice of the meadow on
each side of the river, with its brown clusters of little
aments (some of its seeds begun to fall) amid its very
dark colored twigs. There is an abundance of bright-
yellow resin between its seeds, and the aments, being
crushed between the fingers, yield an odoriferous,
perhaps terebinthine (piney) fragrance and stain the
fingers yellow. It is worth the while, at this season
especially, when most plants are inexpressive, to meet
with one so pronounced.
I see the now withered spikes of the chelone here
and there, in which (when diseased?) a few of its flat
winged seeds are still found.
How different are men and women, e. g. in respect
to the adornment of their heads! Do you ever see an
old or jammed bonnet on the head of a woman at a
public meeting? But look at any assembly of men
with their hats on; how large a proportion of the hats
will be old, weather-beaten, and indented, but I think
so much the more picturesque and interesting! One
farmer rides by my door in a hat which it does me good
to see, there is so much character in it,- so much
independence, to begin with, and then affection for his
old friends, etc., etc. I should not wonder if there were
lichens on it. Think of painting a hero in a bran-new
hat! The chief recommendation of the Kossuth hat is
that it looks old to start with, and almost as good as
new to end with. Indeed, it is generally conceded that
a man does not look the worse for a somewhat dilapi-
dated hat. But go to a lyceum and look at the bonnets
and various other headgear of the women and girls, -
who, by the way, keep their hats on, it being too dan-
gerous and expensive to take them off!! Why, every
one looks as fragile as a butterfly's wings, having just
come out of a bandbox, as it will go into a bandbox
again when the lyceum is over. Men wear their hats
for use; women theirs for ornament. I have seen the
greatest philosopher in the town with what the traders
would call "a shocking bad hat" on, but the woman
whose bonnet does not come up to the mark is at best
a bluestockingg." The man is not particularly proud
of his beaver and musquash, but the woman flaunts her
ostrich and sable in your face.
Ladies are in haste to dress as if it were cold or as if
it were warm, though it may not yet be so, merely
to display a new dress.
Again, what an ado women make about trifles! Here
is one tells me that she cannot possibly wear india-
rubber boots in sloshy weather, because they have
heels. Men have been wearing boots with heels from
time immemorial; little boys soon learn the art, and
are eager to try the experiment. The woodchoppers
and teamsters, and the merchants and lawyers, go and
come quietly the livelong day, and though they may
meet with many accidents, I do not remember any
that originated in the heels of their boots. But not so
1859] A BRUTE WITH A GUN 53
with women; they bolt at once, recklessly as runaway
horses, the moment they get the boots on, before they
have learned the wonderful art of wearing them. My
informant tells me of a friend who has got a white
swelling from coming down-stairs imprudently in boots,
and of another seriously injured on the meeting-house
steps, -for when you deal with steps, then comes
the rub,- and of a third who involuntarily dashed
down the front stairs, knocked a hat-tree through the
side-lights, and broke I do not know how many ribs.
Indeed, that quarter-inch obstruction about the heels
seems to be an insuperable one to the women.
Dec. 26. P. M. Skate to Lee's Bridge and there
measure back, by pacing, the breadth of the river.
After being uniformly overcast all the forenoon, still and
moderate weather, it begins to snow very gradually, at
first imperceptibly, this afternoon,-at first I.thought I
imagined it, and at length begins to snow in earnest
about 6 P. M., but lasts only a few minutes.
I see a brute with a gun in his hand, standing
motionless over a musquash-house which he has de-
stroyed. I find that he has visited every one in the
neighborhood of Fair Haven Pond, above and below,
and broken them all down, laying open the interior to
the water, and then stood watchful, close by, for the
poor creature to show its head there for a breath of
air. There lies the red carcass of one whose pelt he
has taken on the spot, flat on the bloody ice. And for
his afternoon's cruelty that fellow will be rewarded
with a ninepence, perchance. When I consider what
______ ______ _____
are the opportunities of the civilized man for getting
ninepences and getting light, this seems to me more
savage than savages are. Depend on it that whoever
thus treats the musquash's house, his refuge when the
water is frozen thick, he and his family will not come
to a good end. So many of these houses being broken
open, twenty or thirty I see, I look into the open
hole, and find in it, in almost every instance, many
pieces of the white root with the little leaf-bud curled
up which I take to be the yellow lily root, the leaf-
bud unrolled has the same scent with the yellow lily.
There will be half a dozen of these pointed buds, more
or less green, coming to a point
at the end of the root: --D :A Also I
see a little coarser, what I take
to be green leaf-stalk of the pontederia, for I see a little
of the stipule sheathing the stalk from within it? The
first unrolls to something like:1
In one hole there was a
large quantity of this root,
and these buds attached or
bitten off, the root generally
five or six eighths inch in
diameter and one to four
inches long. I think, therefore, that this root must be
their principal food at this time. If you open twenty
cabins you will find it in at least three quarters of
them, and nothing else, unless a very little pontederia
leaf-stem. I see no fresh clamshells in them, and
scarcely any on the ice anywhere on the edge of open
I Of course it is yellow lily.
1859] SCIENTIFIC NOMENCLATURE 55
places, nor are they probably deposited in a heap under
the ice. It may be, however, that the shells are opened
in this hole and then dropped in the water near by!!
By eating or killing at least so many lily buds they
must thin out that plant considerably.
Twice this winter I have noticed a musquash float-
ing in a placid open place in the river when it was frozen
for a mile each side, looking at first like a bit of stump
or frozen meadow, but showing its whole upper outline
from nose to end of tail; perfectly still till he observed
me, then suddenly diving and steering under the ice
toward some cabin's entrance or other retreat half a
dozen or more rods off.
As some of the tales of our childhood, the invention of
some Mother Goose, will haunt us when we are grown up,
so the race itself still believes in some of the fables with
which its infancy was amused and imposed on, e. g. the
fable of the cranes and pygmies, which learned men en-
deavored to believe or explain in the last century.
Aristotle, being almost if not quite the first to write
systematically on animals, gives them, of course, only
popular names, such as the hunters, fowlers, fishers,
and farmers of his day used. He used no scientific
terms. But he, having the priority and having, as it
were, created science and given it its laws, those popu-
lar Greek names, even when the animal to which they
were applied cannot be identified, have been in great
part preserved and make those learned far-fetched and
commonly unintelligible names of genera to-day, e. g.
'OXo0o0ptov, etc., etc. His History of Animals has thus
become a very storehouse of scientific nomenclature.
Dec. 27. Grows cold in the evening,- so that our
breaths condense and freeze on the windows and in the
Dec. 28, they are like ground glass (covered with
frost), and we cannot see out. Sleds creak or squeak
along the dry and hard snow-path. Crows come
near the houses. These are among the signs of cold
The open places in the river yesterday between
Lee's Bridge and Carlisle Bridge were: 1st, below Nut
Meadow Brook, a rather shoal place; 2d, at Clamshell
Bend, longer; 3d, at Hubbard's Bath Bend; (3, was
there not a little open at ash tree? 1); 4th, I think
there was a short opening at Lee's Bend; 2 5th, from
Monroe's to Merrick's pasture; 6th, below junction
to bridge; 7th, below French's Rock; 8th, Barrett's
Bar. N. B. Did not observe or examine between
this and the shoal below the Holt.3 It was no doubt
open at the last place and perhaps more. There was no
opening between the Holt shoal and Carlisle Bridge,
for there was none on the 25th.
The most solidly frozen portions are the broad and
straight reaches. All broad bays are frozen hard.
When you come to where the river is winding, there is
shallower and swifter water- and open places as yet.
2 Or, rather, I think it was thinly frozen?
3 Perhaps ice between 8th and ash opening; 9th, west side Holt
Bend; 10th, north side ditto; llth, east side ditto; 12th, Holt Ford
was open almost round the Holt. N. B. But slight intervals be-
tween the last four.
1859] OPEN PLACES IN THE RIVER
It is remarkable that the river should so suddenly
contract at Pelham Pond. It begins to be Musketa-
The places where the river was certainly (i. e. ex-
cept 4th) open yesterday were all only five feet or
less in depth, according to my map, and all except
8th at bends or else below the mouth of a brook. And
all places not more than five and a quarter feet deep
were open (I am doubtful only about behind Rhodes)
except above Holt Bend and perhaps Pad Island, or
possibly none need be excepted.
Hence, I should say, if you wish to ascertain where
the river is five feet, or less than five feet, deep in Con-
cord, wait till it is open for not more than half a dozen
rods below Nut Meadow (it was probably some twenty
the 27th), and then all open places will be five or less
than five feet deep.
Dec. 29. A very cold morning, -about -150 at
8 A. M. at our door.
I went to the river immediately after sunrise. I could
[see] a little greenness in the ice, and also a little rose-
color from the snow, but far less than before the sun
set. Do both these phenomena require a gross atmos-
phere? Apparently the ice is greenest when the sun is
twenty or thirty minutes above the horizon.
From the smooth open place behind Cheney's a great
deal of vapor was rising to the height of a dozen feet
or more, as from a boiling kettle. This, then, is a phe-
nomenon of quite cold weather. I did not notice it
yesterday afternoon. These open places are a sort of
breathing-holes of the river. When I look toward the
sun, now that they are smooth, they are hardly to be
distinguished from the ice. Just as cold weather re-
veals the breath of a man, still greater cold reveals the
breath of, i. e. warm, moist air over, the river.
I collect this morning the little shining black seeds
of the amaranth, raised above the snow in its solid or
P. M. To Ball's Hill, skating.
Walked back, measuring the river and ice by pacing.1
The first open place in the main stream in Concord,
or no doubt this side Carlisle Bridge, coming up-
stream, were [sic] :-
1st, Holt Ford, 10 rods by 1 (extreme width).
2d, east side Holt Bend, near last, 8 by 1f.
3d, west side Holt Bend (midway), 3 by .
(On the 28th it must have been open nearly all round to Holt
4th, Barrett's Bar, 42 rods by 6 at west end, where it reaches 12
rods above ford; extends down the north side very narrow to the
rock and only little way down the south side; can walk in middle
5th, a bar above Monument, 10 by S.
6th, from Hunt's Bridge to Island, or say 54 rods by 4.
7th, from 8 below willow-row to 5 below boat's place, or 80+ rods
This as far as I looked to-day, but no doubt 2 the next was: -
8th, just above ash tree, probably three or four rods long.
SFeb. 15, 1860, when the river was much more open than Dec. 29,
1859, it was scarcely open at the narrowest place above Bound
Rock, only puffed up in the channel, and the first decided opening
was at Rice's Bend; all below Bound Rock to Fair Haven Pond,
etc., was quite solid. Hence the statements below are true.
2 Proved by looking the 30th.
1859] THE BREATH OF THE RIVER
9th, at Hubbard's Bath Bend.
10th, Clamshell Bend.
11th, below Nut Meadow, probably two or three rods long.
This is the last in Concord. (I do not include the
small openings which are to be found now at bridges.)
The longest opening is that below my boat's place;
next, at junction next Barrett's Bar; next, either Clam-
shell or Hubbard's Bath. But for area of water that
below the junction is considerably the largest of all.1
When I went to walk it was about 100 above zero,
and when I returned, 10. I did not notice any vapor
rising from the open places, as I did in the morning,
when it was 16' and also 60. Therefore the cold
must be between +10 and 6 in order that vapor
may rise from these places. It takes a greater degree
of cold to show the breath of the river than that of
man. Apparently, the river is not enough warmer than
the air to permit of its rising into it, i. e., evaporating,
unless the air is of a very low temperature. When the
air is say four or five degrees below, the water being
+ 32, then there is a visible evaporation. Is there the
same difference, or some 400, between the heat of the
human breath and that air in which the moisture in
the breath becomes visible in vapor? This has to do
with the dew-point. Next, what makes the water of those
open places thus warm? and is it any warmer than
elsewhere? There is considerable heat reflected from
a sandy bottom where the water is shallow, and at
these places it is always sandy and shallow, but I doubt
if this actually makes the water warmer, though it may
1 Vide Jan. 22.
melt the more opaque ice which absorbs it. The fact
that Holt Bend, which is deep, is late to freeze, being
narrow, seems to prove it to be the swiftness of the water
and not reflected heat that prevents freezing. The
water is apparently kept warm under the ice and down
next to the unfrozen earth, and by a myriad springs
from within the bowels of the earth.
I notice that, on the thin black ice lately formed on
these open places, the breath of the water has made
its way up through and is frozen into a myriad of little
rosettes, which nearly cover its surface and make it
white as with snow. You see the same on pretty thick
ice. This occurs whenever the weather is coldest in
the night or very early in the morning. Also, where
these open places have lately closed, the ice for long
distances over the thread of the river will often be
heaved up roofwise a foot
or more .- .. high and a rod
wide, ap- parently pushed
up by the heat of this breath beneath.
As I come home, I observe much thin ice, just formed
as it grows colder, drifting in gauze-like masses down
these open places, just as I used to see it coming down
the open river when it began to freeze. In this case
it is not ice which formed last night, but which is even
The musquash make a good deal of use of these
open spaces. I have seen one four times in three
several places this winter, or within three weeks. They
improve all the open water they can get. They occa-
sionally leave their clamshells upon the edges of them
now. This is all the water to reflect the sky now,
whether amber or purple. I sometimes see the mus-
quash dive in the midst of such a placid purple lake.
Where the channel is broad the water is more slug-
gish and the ice accordingly thick, or it will answer just
as well if the channel is deep, i. e., if its capacity is the
same, though it be very narrow. The ice will be firm
there too, e. g. at Ash Tree Rock (though it was lately
open off the willows eight or ten rods above, being less
deep and narrower); and even at the deeper hole next
below the opening is not where it is deep, though very
narrow, but half a dozen rods below, where it is much
To-night I notice the rose-color in the snow and the
green in the ice at the same time, having been looking
out for them.
The clouds were very remarkable this cold afternoon,
about twenty minutes before sunset, consisting of very
long and narrow white clouds converging in the horizon
(melon-rind-wise) both in the west and east. They
looked like the skeletons and backbones of celestial
sloths, being pointed at each end, or even like porcu-
pine quills or ivory darts sharp at each end. So long
and slender, but pronounced, with a manifest backbone
and marrow. It looked as if invisible giants were dart-
ing them from all parts of the sky at the setting sun.
These were long darts indeed. Well underneath was
an almost invisible rippled vapor whose grain was
exactly at right angles with the former, all over the sky,
yet it was so delicate that it did not prevent your see-
ing the former at all. Its filmy arrows all pointed athwart
the others. I know that in fact those slender white
cloud sloths were nearly parallel across the sky, but
how much handsomer are the clouds because the sky
is made to appear concave to us! How much more
beautiful an arrangement of the clouds than parallel
lines At length those white arrows and bows, slender
and sharp as they were, gathering toward a point in
the west horizon, looked like flames even, forked and
darting flames of ivory-white, and low in the west
there was a piece of rainbow but little longer than it
Taking the river in Concord in its present condition,
it is, with one exception, only the shallowest places that
are open. Suppose there were a dozen places open a
few days ago, if it has grown much colder since, the
deepest of them will be frozen over; and the shallowest
place in all in Concord is the latest of all to freeze, e. g.
at the junction. So, if you get into the river at this
season, it is most likely to be at the shallowest places,
they being either open or most thinly frozen over.
That is one consolation for you.
The exception is on the west side of the Holt (and
the depth is one side from the opening), but that is on
account of the narrowness of the river there. Indeed,
the whole of Holt Bend is slow to freeze over, on ac-
count of the great narrowness and consequent swift-
ness of the stream there; but the two narrowest points
of it are among the first to freeze over, because they
are much the deepest, the rush of waters being either
below or above them, where it is much shallower,
To be safe a river should be straight and deep, or
of nearly uniform depth.
I do not remember any particular swiftness in the
current above the railroad ash tree, where there is still
an opening (seen December 30th), and it may be
owing to the very copious springs in the high bank
for twenty rods. There is not elsewhere so long a high
and springy bank bounding immediately on the river in
the town. To be sure, it is not deep.
Dec. 30. I awake to find it snowing fast, but it slack-
ens in a few hours. Perhaps seven or eight inches have
fallen, the deepest snow yet, and almost quite level.
At first the flakes (this forenoon) were of middling
size. At noon, when it was leaving off, they were of
a different character. I observed them on my sleeve,
- little slender spiculme about one tenth of an inch long,
little dry splinters, sometimes two forking, united at one
end, or two or three lying across one another, quite dry
and fine; and so it concluded.
P. M. Going by Dodd's, I see a shrike perched
on the tip-top of the topmost upright twig of an Eng-
lish cherry tree before his house, standing square on
the topmost bud, balancing himself by a slight motion
of his tail from time to time. I have noticed this habit
of the bird before. You would suppose it inconven-
ient for so large a bird to maintain its footing there.
Scared by my passing [?] in the road, it flew off, and
I thought I would see if it alighted on a similar place.
It flew toward a young elm, whose higher twigs were
much more slender, though not quite so upright as
those of the cherry, and I thought he might be excused
if he alighted on the side of one; but no, to my surprise,
he alighted without any trouble upon the very top of
one of the highest of all, and looked around as before.
I spoke to the barber to-day about that whirl of hair
on the occiput of most (if not all) men's heads. He said
it was called the crown, and was of a spiral form, a
beginning spiral, when.cut short;, that some had two,
one on the right, the other on the left, close together.
I said that they were in a sense double-headed. He
said that it was an old saying that such were bred under
I noticed the other day that even the golden-crested
wren was one of the winter birds which have a black
head, in this case divided by yellow.
Those who depend on skylights found theirs but a
dim, religious light this forenoon and hitherto, owing
to the thickness of snow resting on them. Also cellar
windows are covered, and cellars are accordingly
What a different phenomenon a musquash now from
what it is in summer! Now if one floats, or swims, its
whole back out, or crawls out upon the ice at one of
those narrow oval water spaces in the river, some
twenty rods long (in calm weather, smooth mirrors),
in a broad frame of white ice or yet whiter snow, it is
seen at once, as conspicuous (or more so) as a fly on
a window-pane or a mirror. But in summer, how many
hundreds crawl along the weedy shore or plunge in
the long river unsuspected by the boatman! Even if
the musquash is not there I often see the open clam-
shell on the edge of the ice, perfectly distinct a long
way off, and he is betrayed. However, the edges of
these silver lakes, winter lakes, late freezers, swift-
waters, musquash mirrors, breathing-holes, to-day,
after the morning's snow, are, by the water flowing
back over the thin edges and staining the snow, a dis-
tinct yellow (brown-yellow) tinge for a rod or two on
every side. This shows what and how much coloring
matter there is in the river water. I doubt if it would
be so at Walden. No doubt, however, we here get the
impurer parts of the river, the scum as it were, repeat-
edly washed over at these places.
Dec. 31. Thermometer at 7.45 A. M., 1, yet even
more vapor is rising from the open water below my
boat's place than on the 29th, when it was 15.
The wind is southwesterly, i. e. considerably south of
west. This shows that fog over the water is a phenome-
non of the morning chiefly, as well in winter as in sum-
mer. You will see a fog over the water in a winter
morning, though the temperature may be considerably
higher than at midday when no fog is seen.
There has evidently been a slight fog generally in
the night, and the trees are white with it. The crystals
are directed southwesterly, or toward the wind. I
think that these crystals are particularly large and
numerous, and the trees (willows) particularly white,
next to the open water spaces, where the vapor even
now is abundantly rising. Is this fog in the night occa-
sioned by the cold earth condensing the moisture which
a warmer wind has brought to'us?
At 10 A. M., thermometer 180. I see no vapor from
Crows yesterday flitted silently, if not ominously,
over the street, just after the snow had fallen, as if
men, being further within, were just as far off as usual.
This is a phenomenon of both cold weather and snowy.
You hear nothing; you merely see these black appari-
tions, though they come near enough to look down your
chimney and scent the boiling pot, and pass between
the house and barn.
Just saw moved a white oak, Leighton's, some five
inches in diameter, with a frozen mass of earth some
five or five and a half feet in diameter and two plus thick.
It was dug round before the frost, a trench about
a foot wide and filled with stalks, etc., -and now pried
up with levers till on a level with the ground, then
dragged off. It would not have cost half so much if a
sloping path had been dug to it on one side so that the
drag could have been placed under it in the hole and
another dug at the hole it was removed to, unless
the last were planked over and it was dragged on to it.
They were teaming ice before sunrise (from Sam
Barrett's Pond) on the morning of the 29th, when the
thermometer was 16 or 20 degrees below. Cold work,
you would say. Yet some say it is colder in thawing
weather, if you have to touch the ice.
P. M. To the sweet-gale meadow or swamp up
I notice that one or more of the terminal leafets re-
main on the branches of the flowering fern commonly.
See where probably a shrike (do I ever see a small
1859] OUR SYSTEM OF EDUCATION
hawk in winter?) has torn a small bird in pieces and
its slate-colored down and its feathers have been blown
far and wide over the snow.
There is a great deal of hemlock scales scattered
over the recent snow (at the Hemlocks), evidently by
birds on the trees, and the wind has blown them south-
east, scales, seeds, and cones, and I see the tracks
of small birds that have apparently picked the seeds
from the snow also. It may have been done by gold-
finches. I see a tree sparrow hopping close by, and
perhaps they eat them on the snow. Some of the seeds
have blown at least fifteen rods southeast. So the hem-
lock seed is important to some birds in the winter.
All the sound witch-hazel nuts that I examine are
How vain to try to teach youth, or anybody, truths!
They can only learn them after their own fashion,
and when they get ready. I do not mean by this to
condemn our system of education, but to show what
it amounts to. A hundred boys at college are drilled
in physics and metaphysics, languages, etc. There
may be one or two in each hundred, prematurely old
perchance, who approaches the subject from a similar
point of view to his teachers, but as for the rest, and
the most promising, it is like agricultural chemistry to
so many Indians. They get a valuable drilling, it may
be, but they do not learn what you profess to teach.
They at most only learn where the arsenal is, in case
they should ever want to use any of its weapons. The
young men, being young, necessarily listen to the lec-
turer in history, just as they do to the singing of a bird.
They expect to be affected by something he may say.
It is a kind of poetic pabulum and imagery that they
get. Nothing comes quite amiss to their mill.
I think it will be found that he who speaks with
most authority on a given subject is not ignorant of
what has been said by his predecessors. He will take
his place in a regular order, and substantially add his
own knowledge to the knowledge ,of previous genera-
The oblong-conical sterile flower-buds or catkins of
the sweet-gale, half a dozen at the end of each black
twig, dark-red, oblong-conical, spotted with black, and
about half an inch long, are among the most inter-
esting buds of the winter. The leaf-buds are com-
paratively minute. The white edges of their scales
and their regular red and black colors make the im-
brication of the bud very distinct. The sterile and fer-
tile flowers are not only on distinct plants, but they
commonly grow in distinct patches. Sometimes I de-
tect the one only for a quarter of a mile, and then the
other begins to prevail, or both may be found together.
It grows along the wet edge of banks and the river
and in open swamps.
The mulleins are full of minute brown seeds, which
a jar sprinkles over the snow, and [they] look black
there; also the primrose, of larger brown seeds, which
rattle out in the same manner.
One of the two large docks, perhaps obtusifolius, com-
monly holds its seeds now, but they are very ready to
fall. (Mainly one-seeded; vide three-ribbed goldenrod
1859] THOUGHTS AND THE MAN
There appears to be not much (compared with the
fall) seed left on the common or gray goldenrod, its
down being mostly gone, and the seed is attached to
Potentilla Norvegica appears to have some sound
seed in its closed heads.
The very gray flattish heads of the calamint are
quite full of minute dark-brown seed.
The conical heads of the cone-flower also are full
of long blackish seeds. Both the last drop their seeds
on being inverted and shaken.
I see also the yellow lily (L. Canadense) pods with its
three now gray divisions spreading open like the petals
of a flower, and more than half the great red flattish
triangularish or semicircularish seeds gone. The pod
boys throw with a humming sound.
Even the sidesaddle-flower, where it shows its head
above the snow, now gray and leathery, dry, is covered
beneath its cap with pretty large close-set light-brown
I see one or more sedges with seeds yet, one appar-
ently the Carex debilis, if it is not flava ?
A man may be old and infirm. What, then, are the
thoughts he thinks ? what the life he lives ? They and
it are, like himself, infirm. But a man may be young,
athletic, active, beautiful. Then, too, his thoughts
will be like his person. They will wander in a living
and beautiful world. If you are well, then how brave
you are! How you hope! You are conversant with
joy! A man thinks as well through his legs and arms
as his brain. We exaggerate the importance and ex-
70 JOURNAL [DEC. 31
clusiveness of the headquarters. Do you suppose they
were a race of consumptives and dyspeptics who in-
vented Grecian mythology and poetry? The poet's
words are, "You would almost say the body thought!"
I quite say it. I trust we have a good body then.
Jan. 2. 8 A. M.- 150 below.
Take the whole day, this is probably the coldest
The past December has been remarkable for steady
cold, or coldness, and sleighing.
Jan. 3. P. M. To Baker's Bridge via Walden.
As we passed the almshouse brook this pleasant win-
ter afternoon, at 2.30 P. M. (perhaps 200, for it was 100
when I got home at 4.45), I saw vapor curling along
over the open part by the roadside.
The most we saw, on the pond and after, was a pe-
culiar track amid the men and dog tracks, which we
took to be a fox-track, for he trailed his feet, leaving a
mark, in a peculiar manner, and showed his wildness by
his turning off the road.
Saw four snow buntings by the railroad causeway,
just this side the cut, quite tame. They arose and
alighted on the rail fence as we went by. Very stout
for their length. Look very pretty when they fly and
reveal the clear white space on their wings next the
body, white between the blacks. They were busily
eating the seed of the piper grass on the embankment
there, and it was strewn over the snow by them like
oats in a stable. Melvin speaks of seeing flocks of them
on the river meadows in the fall, when they are of a
Melvin thinks that the musquash eat more clams
now than ever, and that they leave the shells in heaps
under the ice. As the river falls it leaves them space
enough under the ice along the meadow's edge and
bushes. I think he is right. He speaks of the mark of
the tail, which is dragged behind them, in the snow,
- as if made by a case-knife.
He does not remember that he ever sees the small
hawk, i. e. pigeon hawk, here in winter. He shot a
large hawk the other day, when after quails. Had
just shot a quail, when he heard another utter a pecu-
liar note which indicated that it was pursued, and saw it
dodge into a wall, when the hawk alighted on an apple
tree. Quails are very rare here, but where they are is
found the hunter of them, whether he be man or hawk.
When a locomotive came in, just before the sun set,
I saw a small cloud blown away from it which was a
very rare but distinct violet purple.
I hear that one clearing out a well lately, perhaps
in Connecticut, found one hundred and seventy and
odd frogs and some snakes in it.
Jan. 4. P. M. To second stone bridge and down
It is frozen directly under the stone bridge, but a
few feet below the bridge it is open for four rods, and
over that exceedingly deep hole, and again at that very
swift and shallow narrow place some dozen rods lower.
TRACES OF A TRAGEDY
These are the only places open between this bridge
and the mouth of the Assabet, except here and there
a crack or space a foot wide at the springy bank just
below the Pokelogan.
It is remarkable that the deepest place in either of
the rivers that I have sounded should be open, simply
on account of the great agitation of the water there.
This proves that it is the swiftness and .not warmth
that makes the shallow places to be open longest.
In Hosmer's pitch pine wood just north of the
bridge, I find myself on the track of a fox as I take
it -that has run about a great deal. Next I come to
the tracks of rabbits, see where they have travelled back
and forth, making a well-trodden path in the snow;
and soon after I see where one has been killed and
apparently devoured. There are to be seen only the
tracks of what I take to be the fox. The snow is much
trampled, or rather flattened by the body of the rabbit.
It is somewhat bloody and is covered with flocks of
slate-colored and brown fur, but only the rabbit's
tail, a little ball of fur, an inch and a half long and
about as wide, white beneath, and the contents of its
paunch or of its entrails are left, -nothing more.
Half a dozen rods further, I see where the rabbit has
been dropped on the snow again, and some fur is left,
and there are the tracks of the fox to the spot and about
it. There, or within a rod or two, I notice a consider-
able furrow in the snow, three or four inches wide and
some two rods long, as if one had drawn a stick along,
but there is no other mark or track whatever; so I
conclude that a partridge, perhaps scared by the fox,
had dashed swiftly along so low as to plow the snow.
But two or three rods further on one side I see more
sign, and lo! there is the remainder of the rabbit, -
the whole, indeed, but the tail and the inward or soft
parts, -all frozen stiff; but here there is no distinct
track of any creature, only a few scratches and marks
where some great bird of prey- a hawk or owl -
has struck the snow with its primaries on each side,
and one or two holes where it has stood. Now I under-
stand how that long furrow was made, the bird with
the rabbit in its talons flying low there, and now I re-
member that at the first bloody spot I saw some of these
quill-marks; and therefore it is certain that the bird
had it there, and probably he killed it, and he, perhaps
disturbed by the fox, carried it to the second place,
and it is certain that he (probably disturbed by the fox
again) carried it to the last place, making a furrow on
If it had not been for the snow on the ground I
probably should not have noticed any signs that a rabbit
had been killed. Or, if I had chanced to see the scat-
tered fur, I should not have known what creature did
it, or how recently. But now it is partly certain, partly
probable, or, supposing that the bird could not
have taken it from the fox, it is almost all certain, -
that an owl or hawk killed a rabbit here last night
(the fox-tracks are so fresh), and, when eating it on
the snow, was disturbed by a fox, and so flew off with
it half a dozen rods, but, being disturbed again by the
fox, it flew with it again about as much further, trailing
it in the snow for a couple of rods as it flew, and there
1860] CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
it finished its meal without being approached. A fox
would probably have torn and eaten some of the skin.
When I turned off from the road my expectation
was to see some tracks of wild animals in the snow,
and, before going a dozen rods, I crossed the track of
what I had no doubt was a fox, made apparently the
last night, which had travelled extensively in this
pitch pine wood, searching for game. Then I came to
rabbit-tracks, and saw where they had travelled back
and forth in the snow in the woods, making a per-
fectly trodden path, and within a rod of that was a
hollow in the snow a foot and a half across, where a
rabbit had been killed. There were many tracks of
the fox about that place, and I had no doubt then that
he had killed that rabbit, and I supposed that some
scratches which I saw might have been made by his
frisking some part of the rabbit back and forth, shaking
it in his mouth. I thought, Perhaps he has carried off
to his young, or buried, the rest. But as it turned out,
though the circumstantial evidence against the fox was
very strong, I was mistaken. I had made him kill the
rabbit, and shake and tear the carcass, and eat it all
up but the tail (almost); but it seems that he did n't do
it at [all], and apparently never got a mouthful of the
rabbit. Something, surely, must have disturbed the bird,
else why did it twice fly along with the heavy carcass ?
The tracks of the bird at the last place were two little
round holes side by side, the dry snow having fallen in
and concealed the track of its feet.
It was most likely an owl, because it was most likely
that the fox would be abroad by night.
The sweet-gale has a few leaves on it yet in some
places, partly concealing the pretty catkins.
Again see what the snow reveals. Opposite Dodge's
Brook I see on the snow and ice some fragments of
frozen-thawed apples under an oak. How came they
there ? There are apple trees thirty rods off by the road.
On the snow under the oak I see two or three tracks of
a crow, and the droppings of several that were perched
on the tree, and here and there is a perfectly round
hole in the snow under the tree. I put down my hand
and draw up an apple [out] of each, from beneath the
snow. (There are no tracks of squirrels about the oak.)
Crows carried these frozen-thawed apples from the
apple trees to the oak, and there ate them, -what
they did not let fall into the snow or on to the ice.
See that long meandering track where a deer mouse
hopped over the soft snow last night, scarcely making any
impression. What if you could witness with owls' eyes
the revelry of the wood mice some night, frisking about
the wood like so many little kangaroos? Here is a pal-
pable evidence that the woods are nightly thronged with
little creatures which most have never seen, -such popu-
lousness as commonly only the imagination dreams of.
The circumstantial evidence against that fox was
very strong, for the deed was done since the snow fell
and I saw no other tracks but his at the first places.
Any jury would have convicted him, and he would
have been hung, if he could have been caught.
Jan. 5. P. M. Via Turnpike to Smith's and back
by Great Road.
SNOW, THE REVEALER
How much the snow reveals! I see where the downy
woodpecker has worked lately by the chips of bark
and rotten wood scattered over the snow, though I
rarely see him in the winter. Once to-day, however,
I hear his sharp voice, even like a woodchuck's. Also
I have occasionally seen where (probably) a flock of
goldfinches in the morning had settled on a hemlock's
top, by the snow strewn with scales, literally blackened
or darkened with them for a rod. And now, about the
hill in front of Smith's, I see where the quails have run
alqng the roadside, and can count the number of the
bevy better than if I saw them. Are they not peculiar
in this, as compared with partridges, that they run
in company, while at this season I see but [one] or two
A man receives only what he is ready to receive,
whether physically or intellectually or morally, as ani-
mals conceive at certain seasons their kind only. We
hear and apprehend only what we already half know.
If there is something which does not concern me,
which is out of my line, which by experience or by gen-
ius my attention is not drawn to, however novel and
remarkable it may be, if it is spoken, we hear it not,
if it is written, we read it not, or if we read it, it does
not detain us. Every man thus tracks himself through
life, in all his hearing and reading and observation and
travelling. His observations make a chain. The phe-
nomenon or fact that cannot in any wise be linked with
the rest which he has observed, he does not observe.
By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot
receive now. I find, for example, in Aristotle some-
thing about the spawning, etc., of the pout and perch,
because I know something about it already and have
my attention aroused; but I do not discover till very
late that he has made other equally important observa-
tions on the spawning of other fishes, because I am not
interested in those fishes.
I see the dead stems of the water horehound just
rising above the snow and curving outward over the
bank of the Assabet, near the stone-heaps, with its
brown clusters of dry seeds, etc., every inch or two.
These, stripped off or rubbed between the fingers,
look somewhat like ground coffee and are agreeably
aromatic. They have the fragrance of lemon-peel.
Jan. 7. A thaw begins, with a southerly wind. From
having been about 200 at midday, it is now (the
thermometer) some 350 quite early, and at 2 p. M. 450.
At once the snow, which was dry and crumbling, is
softened all over the country, not only in the streets,
but in the remotest and slightest sled-track, where
the farmer is hauling his wood; not only in yards, but
in every woodland hollow and on every hill. There
is a softening in the air and a softening underfoot.
The softness of the.air is something tangible, almost
gross. Some are making haste to get their wood home
before the snow goes, sledding, i. e. sliding, it home
rapidly. Now if you take up a handful, it holds together
and is readily fashioned and compressed into a ball, so
that an endless supply of one kind of missiles is at hand.
I find myself drawn toward this softened snow,
even that which is stained with dung in the road, as
1860] SEEDS AND SEED-EATERS
to a friend. I see where some crow has pecked at the
now thawing dung here. How provident is Nature,
who permits a few kernels of grain to pass undigested
through the entrails of the ox, for the food of the crow
and dove, etc.!
As soon as I reach the neighborhood of the woods
I begin to see the snow-fleas, more than a dozen rods
from woods, amid a little goldenrod, etc., where, me-
thinks, they must have come up through the snow.
Last night there was not one to be seen. The frozen
apples are thawed again.
You hear (in the house) the unusual sound of the
Saw a large flock of goldfinches 1 running and feed-
ing amid the weeds in a pasture, just like tree sparrows.
Then flitted to birch trees, whose seeds probably they
eat.2 Heard their twitter and mew.
Nature so fills the soil with seeds that I notice, where
travellers have turned off the road and made a new
track for several rods, the intermediate narrow space
is soon clothed with a little grove which just fills it.
See, at White Pond, where squirrels have been feed-
ing on the fruit of a pignut hickory, which was quite
full of nuts and still has many on it. The snow for a
great space is covered with the outer shells, etc.; and,
especially, close to the base of this and the neighboring
trees of other species, where there is a little bare ground,
there is a very large collection of the shells, most of
which have been gnawed quite in two.
1 These were goldfinches [see p. 82].
2 So it is possible that they also eat hemlock seed.
The white pine cones show still as much as ever,
hanging sickle-wise about the tops of the trees.
I saw yesterday the track of a fox, and in the course
of it a place where he had apparently pawed to the
ground, eight or ten inches, and on the just visible ground
lay frozen a stale-looking mouse, probably rejected by
him. A little further was a similar hole with some fur
in it. Did he smell the dead or living mouse beneath
and paw to it, or rather, catching it on the surface,
make that hollow in his efforts to eat it? It would
be remarkable if a fox could smell and catch a mouse
passing under the snow beneath him! You would say
that he need not make such a hole in order to eat the
Jan. 8. Began to rain last evening, and rained some
in the night. To-day it is very warm and pleasant.
2 P. M. Walk to Walden.
Thermometer 48 at 2 P. Am. We are suddenly sur-
rounded by a warm air from some other part of the
globe. What a change! Yesterday morning we walked
on dry and squeaking snow, but before night, without
any rain, merely by the influence of that warm air which
had migrated to us, softening and melting the snow,
we began to slump in it. Now, since the rain of last
night, the softest portions of the snow are dissolved in
the street, revealing and leaving the filth which has ac-
cumulated there upon the firmer foundation, and we
'walk with open coats, charmed with the trickling of
After December all weather that is not wintry is
A JANUARY THAW
springlike. How changed are our feelings and thoughts
by this more genial sky!
When I get to the railroad I listen from time to
time to hear some sound out of the distance which
will express this mood of Nature. The cock and the
hen, that pheasant which we have domesticated, are
perhaps the most sensitive to atmospheric changes of
any domestic animals. You cannot listen a moment
such a day as this but you will hear, from far or near,
the clarion of the cock celebrating this new season,
yielding to the influence of the south wind, or the drawl-
ing note of the hen dreaming of eggs that are to be.
These are the sounds that fill the air, and no hum of
insects. They are affected like voyagers on approach-
ing the land. We discover a new world every time that
we see the earth again after it has been covered for a
season with snow.
I see the jay and hear his scream oftener for the thaw.
Walden, which was covered with snow, is now cov-
ered with shallow puddles and slosh of a pale glaucous
slate-color. The sloshy edges of the puddles are the
frames of so many wave-shaped mirrors in which the
leather-colored oak leaves, and the dark-green pines
and their stems, on the hillside, are reflected.
We see no fresh tracks. The old tracks of the rab-
bit, now after the thaw, are shaped exactly like a horse-
shoe, an unbroken curve. Those of the fox which has
run along the side of the pond are now so many white
snowballs, raised as much above the level of the water-
darkened snow as at first they sank beneath it. The
snow, having been compressed by their weight, resists
the melting longer. Indeed, I see far across the pond,
half a mile distant, what looks like a perfectly straight
row of white stones, some fence or other work of
art, stretching twenty rods along the bare shore.
There are a man's tracks, perhaps my own, along the
pond-side there, looking not only larger than reality,
but more elevated owing to the looming, and are re-
ferred to the dark background against which they are
seen. When I know that they are on the ice, they look
like white stepping-stones.
I hear the goldfinch notes (they may be linarias),
and see a few on the top of a small black birch by the
pond-shore, of course eating the seed. Thus they dis-
tinguish its fruit from afar. When I heard their note,
I looked to find them on a birch, and lo, it was a black
We have a fine moonlight evening after, and as by
day I have noticed that the sunlight reflected from this
moist snow had more glitter and dazzle to it than when
the snow was dry, so now I am struck by the brighter
sheen from the snow in the moonlight. All the impuri-
ties in the road are lost sight of, and the melting snow
shines like frostwork.
When returning from Walden at sunset, the only
cloud we saw was a small purplish one, exactly con-
forming to the outline of Wachusett, which it con-
cealed, as if on that mountain only the universal
moisture was at that moment condensed.
The commonest difference between a public speaker
who has not enjoyed the advantage of the highest
Were they not linarias? Vide Jan. 24, 27, 29.
1860] YOUNG CANOE BIRCHES
education in the popular sense, at school and college,
and one who has, is that the former will pronounce a
few words, and use a few more, in a manner in which
the scholars have agreed not to, and the latter will
occasionally quote a few Latin and even Greek words
with more confidence, and, if the subject is the deri-
vation of words, will maintain a wise silence.
Jan. 9. Another fine warm day, 480 at 2 p. M.
P. M. To Walden.
I call that ice marbled when shallow puddles of
melted snow and rain, with perhaps some slosh in
them, resting on old ice, are frozen, showing a slightly
internal marbling, or alternation of light and dark spots
I see, on a slender oak (not white oak) overhanging
the pond, two knots which, though near, I at first mis-
took for vireo nests. One was in a fork, too, and both
were just the right size and color, if not form. Thus,
too, the nests may be concealed to some eyes.
I am interested by a clump of young canoe birches
on the hillside shore of the pond. There is an inter-
esting variety in the colors of their bark, passing from
bronze at the earth, through ruddy and copper colors
to white higher up, with shreds of different color from
that beneath peeling off. Going close to them, I find
that at first, or till ten feet high, they are a dark
bronze brown, a wholly different-looking shrub from
what they afterward become, with some ruddy tinges,
and, of course, regular white specks; but when they
get to be about two inches in diameter, the outmost
cuticle bursts up and down the tree on the south side,
and peels off each way, under the influence, probably,
of the sun and rain and wind, and perhaps aided some-
times by birds. It is as if the tree unbuttoned a thin
waistcoat and suffered it to blow aside, revealing its
bosom or inner garment, which is a more ruddy brown,
or sometimes greenish or coppery; and thus one cuticle
peels off after another till it is a ruddy white, as if you
saw to a red ground through a white wash; and at
length it is snow-white, about five or six feet from the
ground, for it is first white there, while the top, where
it is smaller and younger, is still dark-brown. It may
be, then, half a dozen years old before it assumes the
white toga which is its distinctive dress.
After the January thaw our thoughts cease to refer
to autumn and we look forward to spring.
I hear that R. M-, a rich old farmer who lives in
a large house, with a male housekeeper and no other
family, gets up at three or four o'clock these winter
mornings and milks seventeen cows regularly. When
asked why he works so hard he answers that the poor
are obliged to work hard. Only think, what a creature
of fate he is, this old Jotun, milking his seventeen cows
though the thermometer goes down to 250, and not
knowing why he does it, draining sixty-eight cows'
teats in the dark of the coldest morning! Think how
helpless a rich man who can only do as he has done,
and as his neighbors do, one or all of them! What an
account he will have to give of himself! He spent some
time in a world, alternately cold and warm, and every
winter morning, with lantern in hand, when the frost
A CREATURE OF FATE
goblins were playing their tricks, he resolutely accom-
plished his task and milked his seventeen cows, while
the man housekeeper prepared his breakfast! If this
were original with him, he would be a hero to be cele-
brated in history. Think how tenaciously every man
does his deed, of some kind or other, though it be
idleness! He is rich, dependent on nobody, and nobody
is dependent on him; has as good health as the average,
at least, can do as he pleases, as we say. Yet he gravely
rises every morning by candle-light, dons his cowhide
boots and his frock, takes his lantern and wends to the
barn and milks his seventeen cows, milking with one
hand while he warms the other against the cow or his
person. This is but the beginning of his day, and his
Augean stable work. Sb serious is the life he lives.
Jan. 12. The very slight rain of yesterday afternoon
turned to snow in the night, and this morning consid-
erable has fallen and is still falling. At noon it clears
up. About eight inches deep.
I go forth to walk on the Hill at 3 p. M. Thermometer
It is a very beautiful and spotless snow now, it hav-
ing just ceased falling. You are struck by its peculiar
tracklessness, as if it were a thick white blanket just
spread. As it were, each snowflake lies as it first fell,
or there is a regular gradation from the denser bottom
up to the surface, which is perfectly light, and as it
were fringed with the last flakes that fell. This was a
star snow, dry, but the stars of considerable size. It
lies up light as down. When I look closely it seems to
be chiefly composed of crystals in which the six rays
or leafets are more or less perfect, with a cottony pow-
der intermixed. It is not yet in the least melted by the
sun. The sun is out very bright and pretty warm, and,
going from the sun, I see a myriad sparkling points
scattered over its surface, little mirror-like facets,
which on examination I find to be one of those star
wheels (more or less entire) from an eighth to a third
of an inch in diameter, which has fallen in the proper
position, reflecting an intensely bright little sun, as if it
were a thin and uninterrupted scale of mica. Such is
the glitter or sparkle on the surface of such a snow
freshly fallen when the sun comes out and you walk
from it, the points of light constantly changing. I sus-
pect that these are good evidence of the freshness of the
snow. The sun and wind have not yet destroyed these
The aspect of the pines now, with their plumes and
boughs bent under their burden of snow, is what I call
glyphic, like lumpish forms of sculpture, a certain
There is a wonderful stillness in the air, so that you
hear the least fall of snow from a bough near you, sug-
gesting that perhaps it was of late equally still in what
you called the snow-storm, except for the motion of the
falling flakes and their rustling on the dry leaves, etc.
Looking from the hilltop, the pine woods half a mile
or a mile distant north and northwest, their sides and
brows especially, snowed up like the fronts of houses,
look like great gray or grayish-white lichens, cetrarias
maybe, attached to the sides of the hills. Those oak
A BUSHEL OF NUTMEGS
woods whose leaves have fallen have caught the snow
chiefly on their lower and more horizontal branches,
and these look somewhat like ramalina lichens.
As I stand by the hemlocks, I am greeted by the
lively and unusually prolonged tche de de de de de of
a little flock of chickadees. The snow has ceased fall-
ing, the sun comes out, and it is warm and still, and
this flock of chickadees, little birds that perchance
were born in their midst, feeling the influences of this
genial season, have begun to flit amid the snow-covered
fans of the hemlocks, jarring down the snow, for
there are hardly bare twigs enough for them to rest
on, or they plume themselves in some snug recess
on the sunny side of the tree, only pausing to utter
their tche de de de.
The locust pods, which were abundant, are still,
part of them, unopened on the trees.
I notice, as I am returning half an hour before sun-
set, the thermometer about 240, much vapor rising
from the thin ice which has formed over the snow and
water to-day by the riverside. Here, then, I actually
see the vapor rising through the ice.
Jan. 13.. Tuttle was saying to-day that he did re-
member a certain man's living with him once, from
something that occurred. It was this: The man was
about starting for Boston market for Tuttle, and Mrs.
Tuttle had been telling him what to get for her. The
man inquired if that was all, and Mrs. Tuttle said no,
she wanted some nutmegs. "How many," he asked.
Tuttle, coming. along just then, said, "Get a bushel."
When the man came home he said that he had had a
good deal of trouble about the nutmegs. He could not
find so many as were wanted, and, besides, they told him
that they did not sell them by the bushel. But he said
that he would take a bushel by the weight. Finally he
made out to get a peck of them, which he brought home.
It chanced that nutmegs were very high just then, so
Tuttle, after selecting a few for his own use, brought
the remainder up to town and succeeded in disposing
of them at the stores for just what he gave for them.
One man at the post-office said that a crow would
drive a fox. He had seen three crows pursue a fox
that was crossing the Great Meadows, and he fairly
ran from [them] and took refuge in the woods.
Farmer says that he remembers his father's saying
that as he stood in a field once, he saw a hawk soaring
above and eying something on the ground. Looking
round, he saw a weasel there eying the hawk. Just
then the hawk stooped, and the weasel at the same
instant sprang upon him, and up went the hawk with
the weasel; but by and by the hawk began to come
down as fast as he went up, rolling over and over, till
he struck the ground. His father, going up, raised him
up, when out hopped the weasel from under his wing
and ran off none the worse for his fall.
The surface of the snow, now that the sun has shone
on it so long, is not so light and downy, almost impal-
pable, as it was yesterday, but is somewhat flattened
down and looks even as if [it] had had a skim-coat of
some whitewash. I can see sparkles on it, but they are
finer than at first and therefore less dazzling.
1860] RED SQUIRRELS' RUNWAYS
The thin ice of the Mill Brook sides at the Turnpike
bridge is sprinkled over with large crystals which look
like asbestos or a coarse grain. This is no doubt the
vapor of last evening crystallized. I see vapor rising
from and curling along the open brook and also ris-
ing from the end of a plank in the sun, which is wet
with melted snow, though the thermometer was 160
only when I left the house.
I see in low grounds numerous heads of bidens,
with their seeds still.
I see under some sizable white pines in E. Hubbard's
wood, where red squirrels have run about much since
this snow. They have run chiefly, perhaps, under the
surface of the snow, so that it is very much under-
mined by their paths under these trees, and every now
and then they have come to the surface, or the surface
has fallen into their gallery. They seem to burrow
under the snow about as readily as a meadow mouse.
There are also paths raying out on every side from the
base of the trees. And you see many holes through
the snow into the ground where they now are, and other
holes where they have probed for cones and nuts. The
scales of the white pine cones are scattered about here
and there. They seek a dry place to open them, -a
fallen limb that rises above the snow, or often a lower
dead stub projecting from the trunk of the tree.
Jan. 14. About an inch more snow fell this morning.
An average snow-storm is from six to eight inches deep
on a level.
The snow having ceased falling this forenoon, I go
to Holden Wood, Conantum, to look for tracks. It is
too soon. I see none at all but those of a hound, and
also where a partridge waded through the light snow,
apparently while it was falling, making a deep gutter.
Yesterday there was a broad field of bare ice on each
side of the river, i. e. on the meadows, and now, though
it is covered with snow an inch deep, as I stand on
the river or even on Fair Haven Hill a quarter to half
a mile off, I can see where the ice is through the snow,
plainly, trace its whole outline, it being quite dark com-
pared with where the snow has fallen on snow. In
this case a mantle of light snow even an inch thick is
not sufficient to conceal the darkness of the ice beneath
it, where it is contrasted with snow on snow.
Those little groves of sweet-fern still thickly leaved,
whose tops now rise above the snow, are an interest-
ing warm brown-red now, like the reddest oak leaves.
Even this is an agreeable sight to the walker over snowy
fields and hillsides. It has a wild and jagged leaf,
alternately serrated. A warm reddish color revealed
.by the snow.
It is a mild day, and I notice, what I have'not ob-
served for some time, that blueness of the air only to
be perceived in a mild day. I see it between me and
woods half a mile distant.' The softening of the air
amounts to this. The mountains are quite invisible.
You come forth to see this great blue presence lurking
about the woods and the horizon.
Jan. 16. P. M. Down Boston road around Quail